Fischer-Dieskau/Moore; Schreier/Schiff; Goerne/Aimard; Kaufmann/Deutsch — and now Padmore/Lewis. These are the great Lieder partnerships, and there was no doubt after last night at the Wigmore Hall, that that latest and newest one belongs with the rest.
Beethoven’s single songs, with the exception of Adelaide, are under-performed, so it was a rare treat to have three of the finest to begin this recital, ‘Mailied’ taken perhaps a little too slowly, ‘Neue Liebe’ a tour de force of virtuosity, the voice rising to impassioned heights at ‘Ach, mein Weg zu ihr zurück’ and the piano matching that level of intensity. ‘Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel’ tests a singer in every department — crispness of diction, sustaining of beautiful legato line, confident ascent to taxing high notes — and Padmore rose to every challenge.
An die ferne Geliebte is perhaps too often essayed, but there was no sense of over-familiarity here; indeed, this was a raw, edgy performance, eschewing sweetness in favour of melancholy, taking its cue from ‘Und Tränen sind all ihr Gewinnen.’ Paul Lewis underpinned the singing with playing of exceptional tenderness and fluency, always supporting an interpretation within which a phrase such as ‘Möchte ich sein!’ is delivered not with hopeful ease but in a dry almost-whisper. This is, after all, an address to a ‘distant beloved’ who never was the composer’s own; you’d never think it from most performances, but there was no doubt here. The final song was an object lesson in how to convey the bittersweet nature of unrequited love, ‘aus der vollen Brust.’
The mood of Schwanengesang was daringly bleak from the outset, the ‘sweet dream’ of the warrior as troubling as the ‘Restless longing’ of ‘Frühlings-Sehnsucht’ and the familiar ‘Ständchen’ given a melancholy burden, the steady thrum of the piano replicating the beat of the heart to a much more marked extent than usual (and salut to Mark Padmore for the proper trill on ‘Kennen Liebesschmerz’). This was daring, edge-of-seat singing and playing, sometimes taking expression right to the borderlines of possibility and the limits of vocal prowess, but it worked, triumphantly. The Heine settings were magisterial in every way; framed by playing of the most tremulous sensitivity, the beloved face in ‘Ihr Bild’ sprang into life with vivid depiction, and the ‘Doppelgänger’ was frighteningly recreated, what Graham Johnson called the song’s “creepy melisma, as if the singer were breaking out into a cold sweat” searingly evident, and that horribly exposed high G just poised in the vulnerable area between a note and a howl.
After all this anguish, Die Taubenpost fell like healing balsam upon the ear, yet even this was not sung in that ‘merely delightful’ style which some favour; there was no throwaway charm at ‘die Sehnsucht!’ kennt ihr sie?’ rather a sense of the hopeless yearning which is present even in these, the very last notes Schubert put to manuscript. No encore was given, despite a noisily rapturous reception from a much-younger-than-usual crowd, but then what could possibly be sung after such an interpretation of Schubert’s final masterpiece, distinguished by such intensity in partnership?
There are a very few seats left for the repeat performance on Thursday; don’t miss it.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org