Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Critical Opinion

Jonas Kaufmann is on a recital tour of the United States, with his usual pianist, Helmut Deutsch. Kaufmann is famous, cute, and rarely seen in this country, where he hasn't appeared much in opera west of the Hudson River, if ever, and hasn't done a concert tour in about a decade. He has many fans. It turns out that two of the critics who've seen him aren't among them.

Both of these reviews are well-reasoned and make similar points about where Kaufmann's strengths and weaknesses are. The two reviewers are by no means in accord at all times when they've reviewed the same performances.

Joshua got some heated blowback and wrote a commentary about it, which you can read here.

I'm genuinely shocked at his mention that "a fellow music critic asserted that I should never be allowed to review anything at all." There is no other reviewer I agree with all the time and it would not be a good thing if there were. Suggesting that someone shouldn't be "allowed" to review over a single disagreement is ridiculous and wildly unprofessional for someone in the business. (I'm not sure whether to read Joshua's Twitter timeline and FB feed to see who said this, out of concern that it might be someone I respect...and would respect a little less.)

As for me, I missed this recital, but both of the reviews I link to are in accord with what I heard at Kaufmann's 2011 recital and in a couple of opera broadcasts, including the Met HD of Die Walküre. I didn't blog the earlier recital, which was mostly Lieder with a couple of light classics thrown in for fun. I recall wondering what all the fuss was about. I found Deutsch a recessed and anonymous player, much more of an accompanist than a partner, which is unfortunate. The right pianist can make an enormous difference.

Kaufmann's interpretations seemed generalized and worked best with the most operatic of the songs, where a good line and dynamic control can take you a long way. I did not find his interpretations particularly insightful or detailed. I did note in email to a friend that "Die Rose, die Lilie" from Dichterliebe was not very successful, because it didn't have the requisite light touch.

I found Kaufmann similarly generalized in opera. I'm sorry to have missed him in the Met Parsifal, in a role that's a real dramatic test for the tenor.

It's not, by the way, that I haven't read ludicrous reviews and reviews that I disagree strongly with. I have blogged about a fair number of eye-rolling reviews or specific remarks from reviewers. Bernard Holland criticizing an amateur group for having the nerve to sing a challenging work at Carnegie Hall comes to mind. And back in 2017, the year that Mason Bates premiered a better opera than John Adams, there was a fair amount of disagreement among critics about both The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs and Girls of the Golden West. You could look it up! Reasonable people can, and do, disagree all the time.

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