As an American, I grew up singing ‘Silent Night,’ and ‘O Christmas Tree,’ not realizing that they were actually German carols translated into English. Star-Tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s newly-released album “It’s Christmas!” is an extraordinary labor of love that reveals a centuries-old treasure trove of old German Christmas songs, and many others – from a total of five countries.
His esteemed colleagues on the 2-disc Sony Classical set include the Salzburg Bach Choir, the St. Florianer Sángerknaben, the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, and the Cologne Studio Big Band. Kaufmann employs his versatile vocal stylings, spanning from stentorian to intimate, and always with a burgeoning sense of pride. He has extended last year’s successful edition by adding seven songs, and it encompasses almost two and a half hours of listening.
Sony’s website quotes him: “The wonderful success of my first Christmas album, and the pleasure that it gave not just me personally but others, too, has lured me into returning to the studio this year to pay tribute to another holiday musical genre – intimate Alpine Stubnmusi – that for someone like myself, who grew up in Bavaria and Tyrol, invariably evokes the holiday spirit.” Though it weighs heavily on the German repertoire, the musical spectrum nevertheless offers listeners a rich fabric of selections that they may not have encountered before.
For six of the Alpine songs, he is joined by singer Stefanie Irány, and they are accompanied with the original authentic ensemble of dulcimer, harp, violin, clarinet, and double bass. Harpist Florian Pedarnig contributes skillful playing in several European songs, and trumpeter Till Brönner has cameos in the American section. Jochen Rieder is the maestro for the European scores (which are superb arrangements), and Wieland Reissman conducts the big-band scores.
The big surprise is at the end. Kaufmann switches gears and perfectly executes the American singing style from the mid-20th century crooner era. In five songs, he emulates the American Songbook delivery and succeeds winningly, so much so that it’s hard to detect that he’s a trained opera singer, and not an American! The album’s entire collection is so wide-ranged — stylistically, vocally, and historically, it promises to be a musical bright light in your Christmas season.
The review appeared first for the members of the Müpa+Mi group.