Initial encounters with Klaus Florian Vogt can be unsettling. The voice is too small, sweet and youthful to be a Heldentenor. And yet it is. Upon first hearing him in his Montreal Symphony Orchestra recording of Das Lied von der Erde (A/09), I thought he was a casting mistake. The poor lad! Here was a voice that seemed suitable for Purcell and was instead singing Mahler’s most punishing vocal lines. Vocal sound aside, his singing curiously lacked clear attacks but seemed to alight more casually upon any given phrase. Not until hearing him in the Netherlands Radio Orchestra’s concert Parsifal (Challenge Classics, 12/11) did I understand that he may well represent a welcome new chapter in Wagnerian singing.
Of course, recordings can be deceptive, but even if that’s the case, Siegmund’s ‘Winterstürme’ scene from Die Walküre is never heard with such an effortless legato or with a timbre that would suggest a young lover seized with the thrill of spring. Rarely have the high notes in the Prize Song from Die Meistersinger been achieved with such ease. At times, Wagner seems to come as naturally to him as a folksong, so lacking is there the usual audible effort. Isn’t effort part of the music’s drama? Even with the greatest of all Heldentenors, the baritonal Lauritz Melchior? Not here.
My main points of reference for Vogt are Wolfgang Windgassen in terms of sound (though Vogt is even more tenor-ish) and, going further back, Walter Widdop (whose vocal technique forwent the chest voice that increasingly dominated 20th-century tenordom). In the years since the Mahler recording, Vogt has acquired more heft in the middle of his voice that he uses mainly when climaxing an aria on this disc – and always with great effect. Just when you think you’ve heard all that he has, there’s more. What suggests that he’s a genuine Heldentenor is his reading of a non-Helden aria from The Magic Flute: the music explores a fuller range of the tenor voice, and one in which Vogt is a tad less comfortable, as suggested not by any particular sense of vocal discomfort but a slightly diminished sense of expressive comprehension in terms of what the high notes mean. He’s happier in Wagner, where high notes are an intensification of what is already conveyed in middle register. He’s a language-based tenor and seems best with word-oriented Wagner.
Those are the high points of the disc for me; they, alone, are worth its acquisition. There are also beautifully sung but less interesting performances of lighter works, most notably Weber’s ‘Ich juble in Glück’ from Oberon, a hybrid piece that isn’t often sung sympathetically but is here. Though some of the best tenors can wear out their welcome in an aria anthology, Vogt’s performances are parceled between well-played overtures, capably conducted by Peter Schneider. At the end of the disc, Vogt sounds particularly fresh alongside the slightly fatigued Manuela Uhl in a duet from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt – one portion of this predominantly studio-recorded disc that was captured live.