Music Review: Tenor Jonas Kaufmann shows his lighter side in songs from German operetta, film



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Jonas Kaufmann, "You Mean the World to Me" (Sony)

Is there anything Jonas Kaufmann can't do?

The great German tenor has long since conquered the worlds of grand opera and classical recital. Now he turns his talents with equal success to lighter fare, on an album of German operetta and film songs from 1925-35.

Those years marked a period of tremendous cultural creativity until it was brought to a screeching halt by the ascension of the Nazis, who forced many of the composers and performers into exile.

The album is a delight from start to finish — and full of discoveries for the casual listener. Beyond more familiar works by Franz Lehar, we get to hear songs by lesser names like Ralph Benatzky, Robert Stolz and Hans May.

A particular treat is the inclusion of two duets from operettas by Paul Abraham, the bittersweet "Give me your hands again in parting" from "Viktoria and her Hussar" and the irresistibly jazzy "Divan Dolly" from "The Flower of Hawaii."

In both of these, Kaufmann is partnered by the excellent soprano Julia Kleiter, who also joins him for the album's lone operatic excerpt, the haunting duet from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's "Die tote Stadt" ("The Dead City").

Kaufmann, accompanied by Jochen Rieder conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, lightens his voice wonderfully well when the numbers call for seductive crooning. But he is equally good at summoning heroic stamina for such numbers as Eduard Kuenneke's "The Song of Schrenk's Life," which ends in a ringing high C.

Several of the songs are heard in English translation, a testament to their onetime international popularity (a separate all-German version of the CD was recorded for domestic consumption). Kaufmann's lightly accented English is ingratiating and easily understood. Still, some of the language choices seem whimsical: The song that gives the album its title, written by the tenor Richard Tauber, is heard not in English but in the original, while Lehar's familiar "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" ("You are my heart's delight") is sung twice — in English and in French, but not in German.

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