Jonas Kaufmann, "Wagner" (Decca)
Just about anything the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann does these days is special, and he sounds in particularly fresh voice as he ventures into some new and some familiar territory on this album of excerpts from Richard Wagner's operas.
He brings youthful exuberance to the "Forest Murmurs" scene from "Siegfried," then switches seamlessly to the mature bitterness of Tannhaeuser's "Rome Narrative," an opera he has yet to add to his repertoire. His rendition of the prayer from the last act of Wagner's early opera "Rienzi" is especially lovely. One track offer a welcome surprise: His "Grail Narrative" from "Lohengrin" includes the second verse, which Wagner himself cut before the premiere and which has rarely been recorded. This extra four minutes of music helps fill out the opera's final scene and allows the hero a better explanation of his past.
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Also included are the five Wesendonck songs in the Felix Mottl orchestration. Though these were written for a female voice, Kaufmann makes them his own with unflagging lyricism. The melodies and harmonies in these songs prefigure "Tristan und Isolde," an opera that Kaufmann will surely tackle in a few years. The singer gets strong support by the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin conducted by Donald Runnicles.