In this anniversary year of Robert Schumann, it was hugely satisfying to be treated to his most famous song cycle and also to be reminded of the influence of that giant of Lieder composition, Schubert.
After the opening frolicking of Die Forelle, Padmore and Cooper immersed us in three of Schubert’s late, darker songs; the wistful nostalgia of Vor meiner Wiege, following the gentle happiness of Des Fischers Liebesglck, set up a mesmerising performance of Die Sterne, the relentless accompaniment softened and made leisurely by Padmore’s sublime legato.
The third of Schubert’s Drei Klavierstcke D946 made comfortable what could have been an awkward transition, from a mortally ill composer in the final year of his life to the most brilliant fruit of Schumann’s fabled year of song. Cooper is in the middle of recording Schubert’s complete piano works and is a master of the repertoire like no other: her control of the flitting moods of the piece, a few uncharacteristic slips of the fingers aside, made it more than the light, frothy afterthought that it often seems when performed as part of the complete set.
And so onto the main course: I have heard many singers become too emotional too soon in Dichterliebe, but this was never going to be a risk with an artist such as Padmore. In savouring every word of Heine’s angst-ridden poetry, he showed us that the emotional key to the work is not so much the wistful loving of the early songs or the barely-controlled rage of Ich grolle nicht, but rather the slow unwinding towards the end of the cycle, and he gave us a wonderfully subtle characterisation of the almost schizophrenic changes of mood in the final few songs.
But this was never a one-man show Padmore remarked on-stage that ‘in many ways Dichterliebe is a piano piece with a vocal accompaniment’ and Cooper provided the emotional heart of Schumann’s cycle, in its endlessly fascinating piano part: her postlude caught perfectly the final words of the cycle and allowed our thoughts to relax as the poet’s loving thoughts sank into the sea.