United Kingdom Oxford Lieder Festival – The Schubert Project: Katherine Broderick (soprano), Mark Padmore (tenor), Julius Drake and Bengt Forsberg (piano), Holywell Music Room, Oxford 24.10.2014. (CR)
Schubert: Des Mädchens Klage, D191
Abschied von einem Freunde, D578
Des Mädchens Klage, D389
Am Fenster, D878
Das Zügenglöcklein, D871
Der Wanderer an den Mond, D870
Im Freien, D880
Fierrabras – Overture, D796 (arranged by Schubert)
Alfonso und Estrella – ‘Könnt’ ich ewig hier verweilen’ and ‘Herrlich auf des Berges Höhen’, D732 (arranged by Iain Farrington)
Fierrabras – Die Brust gebeugt von Sorgen (arranged by Iain Farrington)
Vier Refrainlieder, D866
This Schubertiade took the audience beyond the drawing room and into the opera house by including some extracts from two of Schubert’s better-known stage works (to the extent that any of them are known at all). In the first half, however, Julius Drake alone accompanied Katherine Broderick to begin, with some lively songs which looked ahead to the drama to come in the second half. Her wide, rich vibrato was not entirely unsuited to this sequence, but nor did it do full justice either. It was instructive to compare the two settings of Schiller’s poem Des Mädchens Klage, for in the first (D191) Broderick’s tone was perhaps not gaunt enough for a lament. However the histrionics of her interpretation of D389 were closer to the mark in this more agitated setting by Schubert, where the urgent force of her singing, and Drake’s accompaniment, drove the music on. She evoked a forlorn beauty in Abschied von einem Freunde, though vibrato again slightly got in the way of that; there was a purer and direct tone in Klage, and the portamento conveyed in Lied created a sense of enjoyment and fun.
Mark Padmore followed with a series of songs which set poems by Johann Gabriel Seidl, some of which are amongst the better known of Schubert’s prodigious output. Although tender, Padmore’s singing tended to sound as though veiled by a gauze or mist, and so was not entirely lyrical or seamless, as these late songs surely demand. Das Zügenglöcklein was better in this regard, but some tuning was out of place. Der Wanderer an den Mond received a stately, dandyish tread.
The second half opened with two extracts apiece from Fierrabras, and Alfonso und Estrella. Drake was joined by Bengt Forsberg for these four hand piano arrangements, that of the Overture having been made by Schubert himself. There was certainly a great fluency here, translated into the pianists’ performance, where the symphonic argument was capably sustained in equal balance between them, Drake in the upper part by no means becoming unduly prominent. Broderick sang the three arias with great acumen, and particular violence and passion in the last of them where Florinda invokes the Furies, aided by the pianists’ stamping their feet.
The good humour of the Vier Refrainlieder (also to words by Seidl) was well brought out by Broderick and Padmore, as they sang alternate songs – coquetry and mock frustration on Broderick’s part, and some sustained singing this time from Padmore, rounding off a delightfully varied programme. Drake’s accompanying, here as elsewhere, was exemplary in realising what often seems like the endless melodic flow of Schubert’s inspirations with the minimum of fuss, enabling the music to sound as though it is spontaneous.