Classical Perspectives

‘Tenor Hits From the Age of the Talkies’



Jonas Kauffman

(with Julia Kleiter, soprano)

Jochen Reider conducting the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

Sony Classical


Projects such as this can go so horribly wrong. Opera singers trying to perform “lighter” fare usually do no favors either to themselves or to the music. Only rarely does a classically trained singer working exclusively in that world show an ability to convincingly capture a popular style; usually the inflections and expressive nuances are just “off,” unnatural-sounding, and sometimes even humorous in their attempts at loosening or altering long-practiced, specialized technique. Fortunately, the music on this happily successful effort is many steps removed from the merely “popular”–-and the singer, tenor Jonas Kaufmann, is likewise far from a typical opera singer.

The works on offer are characterized by Kaufmann as “tenor hits from the age of the talkies,” a special time in Germany’s cultural history when his grandfather, from whom he first heard many of these tunes, was studying in Berlin, a period that for this recording roughly spans the decade from 1925-35, the world of Sally Bowles and the Kit Kat Klub, as well as Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kálmán, Paul Abraham, and Erich Korngold. In a way, these songs are the “classical music” of a time and place during which many of the composers of the real thing were expelled, banned, exiled, or imprisoned. Yes, these songs are lighter fare than we associate with the most refined operatic repertoire, but, especially as Kaufmann sings them–or rather, performs them–their “lesser” musical/artistic credentials warrant absolutely no apologies. And there are many, many moments of music and singing as spectacular as you’ll hear in any opera.

From Jonas Kauffman’s You Are My Heart’s Delight, Emmerich Kálmán’s ‘Grüss mir mein Wien’

The title track from Jonas Kauffman’s You Are My Heart’s Delight, composed by Franz Lehard, lyrics by Harry Graham

I’ve praised Kaufmann’s “rich, baritonal tenor” and have cited his “uncommon lyricism and emotional depth” and “lovely high-register soft singing” (in his recording of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin), and in his review of Wagner arias, colleague Robert Levine is equally impressed, describing the tenor’s “easy ascents above the staff”, “smooth legato”, “phrasing that confirms great musicianship”, and “beautiful, fully rounded, lustrous sound”. You get the idea: Kaufmann has established himself–at least in the opera world–as perhaps the pre-eminent tenor. All of the above traits and techniques and abilities are on display here, from the two versions of Lehár’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!” (one in English, the other in French) and Kálmán’s “Grüss mir mein Wien,” to Eduard Künneke’s “Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk” (complete with concluding high-C) and Korngold’s gorgeous, disc-highlight “Glück, das mir verblieb”. The latter is a duet–and here is another plus for this recital: the singer accompanying Kaufmann on this and two other numbers, soprano Julia Kleiter, is wonderful, a superb singer who matches the tenor perfectly, vocally and stylistically.

From You Are My Heart’s Delight, Jonas Kauffman performs ‘Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss,’ by Franz Lehár (composer) and Alan Patrick Herbert (lyrics)

The accompaniments, including several arrangements by Andreas Tarkmann, are all finely played by the Berlin Radio Symphony and Jochen Rieder, and recorded in the broadcasting studio of the former East German Radio–noted for its excellent acoustics, and apparently retaining much of its ambience from that earlier time. You may not love absolutely all of the selections here (I could have done without the too-sappy “My little nest of heavenly blue”, another by Lehár), but I’m pretty certain that you will enjoy every single note. Highly recommended. –-David Vernier,




‘A labor of love on all fronts…’


Germany was a great mine for musicals during the early-talkie era, when a spirit of insouciance and experimentation dominated. An army of fine songwriters–many of them Jewish–was recruited from theaters, cabarets and operetta stages to provide scores for newly-minted film-musical stars such as Lillian Harvey, Willy Fritsch, Joseph Schmidt, Jan Kiepura and Marta Eggerth.

Jonas Kaufmann pays loving tribute to those days, as well as to the heady twilight of the operetta era, in this delightful CD of songs written between the wars for stage and screen by Franz Lehár, Mischa Spoliansky, Robert Stoltz, Ralph Benatzky and others. A labor of love on all fronts, it features some numbers in their original orchestrations and, when none could be found, new ones created in relatively faithful period style by Andreas N. Tarkmann. The Rundfunk-Sinfonie­orchester Berlin was brought in to back up Kaufmann, stretching or reducing the number of its players according to the specifics of each song. Their love of performing this music shows in their spirited playing and the idiomatic conducting of Jochen Rieder. After all, what’s notto love? These are irresistible tunes, delivered by Kaufmann with warmth and panache.

From You Are My Heart’s Delight, Jonas Kauffman performs ‘Im Traum hast Du mir alles erlaubt’ by Robert Stolz (composer) and Robert Gilbert and Armin L. Robinson (lyrics)

From You Are My Heart’s Delight, Jonas Kauffman’s version of ‘Irgendwo auf der Welt,’ by Robert Gilbert (composer) and Werner R. Heyman (lyrics), written for the 1933 film Ein blonder Traum (A Blonde Dream)

Most selections are sung in the original German, although a few of the most popular are in English; Lehár’s “Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss” and “You Are My Heart’s Delight” and Benatzky’s tango “It Would Be Wonderful Indeed” are among them. At the end of the disc, as an encore, Kaufmann sings “You Are My Heart’s Delight” in French, as “Je t’ai donné mon coeur.”

It’s a pleasure hearing Kaufmann render many of these love songs in a gentle croon, crescendoing to a fuller sound only for emphasis. He shows this to full advantage in Lehár’s sweet “My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue,” from Frasquita, here sung in an English translation by 1930s radio musicologist Sigmund Spaeth.

The title song of this CD was written by the great tenor operetta star Richard Tauber. It came from Tauber’s operetta Der Singende Traum, and it is a gem, with a lovely, gentle melody that is enhanced by the sweetness of Kaufmann’s delivery. “Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk,” from Eduard Künneke’s Die Grosse Sünderin, allows Kaufmann to pull out all the operatic stops in a swashbuckling aria originally written for Helge Rosvaenge.

From You Are My Heart’s Delight, Jonas Kauffman’s evocation of old Vienna, Emmerich Kálmán’s haunting ‘Grüss mir mein Wien,’ from Gräfin Mariza, a nostalgic, waltz-time love song to Vienna and its charms. Written in 1924, it expressed a longing for a Vienna that had simply ceased to exist after World War I.

Kaufmann is joined by soprano Julia Kleiter for three duets, the most charming of which is “Diwanpuppchen,” from Paul Abraham’s Blume von Hawaii. He is clearly enjoying himself here, cutting loose with “Doo doo doo” nonsense syllables in this sprightly syncopated foxtrot.

The best track on the album is Emmerich Kálmán’s haunting “Grüss mir mein Wien,” from Gräfin Mariza, a nostalgic, waltz-time love song to Vienna and its charms. Written in 1924, it expressed a longing for a Vienna that had simply ceased to exist after World War I. Kálmán, of course, was unaware of the devastation that was still to come. Today, the song stands as the farewell to an entire era, and Kaufmann sings it with great affection and real tenderness. Kaufmann has said he wants to record more of this kind of music. Let’s hope he does, and soon. –Eric Myers, Opera News


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