Kaufmann's Wagner CD wins Gramophone Award

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 | 2:59:00 pm

In a year where Wagner was greatly under represented, the Kaufmann/Runnicles "Wagner" CD won "Vocal Recording Of The Year" at this years Gramophone rewards.

Jonas Kaufmann (ten) Markus Brück (bass-bar) Deutsche Oper Berlin Chorus and Orchestra / Donald Runnicles
Decca 478 5189DH

Lohengrin – In fernem Land (original version). Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Am stillen Herd. Rienzi – Allächtiger Vater, blick hera!. Siegfried Dass der mein Vater nicht ist. Tannhäuser – Inbrunst im Herzen. Die Walküre – Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater. Wesendonck-Lieder (orch Mottl)


Turn immediately to the Tannhäuser excerpt. Mighty tents are already pitched on this summit of early Wagnerian arioso – Melchior and Szell, Windgassen and Sawallisch, Kollo and Solti – but Kaufmann and a superbly paced accompaniment from Runnicles and his German orchestra are up there with them. Kaufmann both darkens and stresses up his voice to portray the failed pilgrim’s predicament, and he and the conductor make daring and unisono use of fermatas.

Elsewhere, the novelties of this carefully thought-out recital include the ‘original’ version of Lohengrin’s Grail Narration (two verses with linking chorus) and, again following earlier colleagues like Melchior and Richard Tauber, a performance of the Wesendonck-Lieder. I remain unconvinced (pace the artist’s booklet defence) that the latter really work dramatically for a male voice – although Kaufmann gives so much attention to dear Mathilde’s texts as to render their barely Alice Elgar level of poetic inspiration almost too clear, and Runnicles makes Mottl’s plain orchestration as echt Wagnerian (ie Tristan-esque) as possible. Kaufmann’s full Act 3 narration is now even more polished and ecstatic (‘high’ is the word I want to use) than his noted Munich and Bayreuth performances. The other operatic excerpts, including a sizeable chunk of Siegfried’s Forest Murmurs and a truly improvisatory-sounding ‘Am stillen Herd’, also find the tenor pushing the confines of a recital disc excitingly towards the level of live performance.

Subtly recorded (in East Berlin’s atmospheric-sounding Funkhaus studio) and, as I hope I’ve already indicated, magically accompanied, the disc is something of a triumph.

Mike Ashman


Also worth noting in our opinion - although with no direct link to Wagner - was the winner of "Recording Of The Year". The highly recommended: 

Bartók. Eötvös. Ligeti Violin Concertos from Patricia Kopatchinskaja.


Patricia Kopatchinskaja (vn) Ensemble Modern; Hessen Radio Symphony Orchestra / Peter Eötvös
Naïve F V5285 Buy now



Bartók Violin Concerto No 2, Sz112
Eötvös seven
Ligeti Violin Concerto
(90’ • DDD)

Ligeti – selected comparison:

Gawriloff, Ens Intercontemporain, Boulez (1/95) (DG) 439 808-2GH

Patricia Kopatchinskaja performs these three concertos by composers born in Hungary with her trademark panache and the recorded balance gives her all due prominence. The importance of the orchestral contribution can’t be denied, however, and there’s an impressive sense of common purpose and collaborative zeal throughout.

Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto has long since been accorded classic status and in – my guess – making a determined effort to ‘think it new’, Kopatchinskaja and Eötvös sometimes risk exaggerating what is already pretty intense. The effect can be downright hectic; but it’s a mightily exciting account, which certainly doesn’t rush its fences or sell the score short. When Bartók slackens the tension and allows lyric reflectiveness to emerge, as in the first movement’s development, this performance is poetic and subtly shaded to a fault; and even though the second and third movements are usually played with a somewhat lighter touch, I found the sheer intensity of Kopatchinskaja and Eötvös’s advocacy compelling.

Such qualities are even more appropriate for Ligeti’s extraordinarily wide-ranging and idiosyncratic take on concerto form. Other conductors might underline the refinement of what are often delicate as well as febrile textures but this account goes for the jugular, projecting the music’s macabre and scintillating mixture of styles and moods with maximum precision as well as maximum virtuosity. In the culminating cadenza – which Ligeti asked the soloist to devise – Kopatchinskaja’s violin comes close to disintegrating under the force of her spectacular display and the final orchestral cut-off has never seemed more brutal. Even more powerful is the tortured serenity of the second and fourth movements, helping to mark the concerto out as one of Ligeti’s supreme achievements.

Even in this company, Eötvös’s own work, seven, stands up well. This is a tribute to the seven astronauts who died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003 and the music’s ‘seven-ness’ extends to having six subsidiary solo violins distributed around the performing space. Pious restraint is no more in Eötvös’s vocabulary than it is in Ligeti’s; and even if the result teeters on the verge of kitsch on occasion, there’s no doubt whatever that sevenmerits repeated listening.
Arnold Whittall
More about this years Gramophone Awards can be found here.