Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Die Schöne Müllerin / Padmore / Lewis @ Wigmore Hall, London

23 June 2011

I didn’t see Mark Padmore in the audience at Snape Maltings last Saturday, but he certainly has been listening to (and watching) Matthias Goerne somewhere, and pretty intensively. Padmore has always seemed to me to be the Ford Mondeo of Lieder singers – a dependable, comfortable family ride, but with some luxury and pizzazz when you hit the higher specs. Lately, however, he seems to have joined another class – gone is the sweet reliability, and in its place there lurks an excitement, a sense of risk which at times is in danger of proving too much for his beautiful, plaintive instrument.

Perhaps that sense of danger has come about with his new partner, Paul Lewis, the nearest we have to a Gerald Moore in our midst – to say that Lewis is self-effacing would be to do him a disservice, except insofar as he seems to entirely subsume himself into the music, but I have yet to hear another pianist so utterly wedded to the composer’s wishes. The vorspiel to ‘Wohin?’ has seldom sounded so rippling, that to ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ so mellifluous: as for the lovely little rising phrase after ‘Ihr blauen Morgensterne’ it would be hard to imagine more delicate or sensitive playing. Lewis touched even greater heights of lyric grace with ‘Pause’, where his evocation of the lute’s fingering was utterly beguiling.

Padmore’s singing often matched that of the playing, which is high praise indeed – he tells the story in the manner of an Evangelist, but with much dramatic and expressive attention to words. He takes so many leaves out of Goerne’s book that it almost makes a whole new volume; ‘Für die Hände, für’s Herze’ was pure Matthias in its capacity to wring your heart, although with a bit too much wringing of the hands, and the ferocious emphasis of ‘Und sie merkt nichts von all dem bangen Treiben’ was the kind of thing that has you breaking out in a sweat at a Goerne recital.

Padmore has also learnt from other masters, notably Schreier and Fischer-Dieskau, getting a bit too close to the latter’s word-pointing for the comfort of some, especially at moments like ‘Die ganze Welt mir ein’. However, he is his own man, especially in his close understanding with his accompanist, and that man is a direct, engaging, honest interpreter who is not afraid of sacrificing a little tonal beauty now and then in the service of deeper communication.

There are times, especially at the top of the stave, when Padmore has to float up into the head voice to achieve the effect he wants, and he is often stretched to his limits – not so much in the faster songs, where he produces a creditably lusty sound, but in ones such as ‘Die Liebe Farbe’ where the bleached quality of his tone can be the wrong side of harsh. However, I can forgive a singer many such little faults when he so clearly understands what this music is about, and when he gives such uncompromising emotional weight to lines such as ‘Ach, Tränen machen/Nicht maiengrun,/Machen tote Liebe/nicht wieder blühn’.

At the close of this recital you did not feel as emotionally wrung out as you do after hearing he who had better not be mentioned again, but you did feel moved, enriched and aware of the joy that can be generated by two artists who have achieved such a perfect unity.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org

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