Clayton and Lewis are a Powerful Partnership in  Die schöne Müllerin

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Schubert: Allan Clayton (tenor), Paul Lewis (piano). Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds, 24.4.2015 (JL)

In 2013 the Guardian newspaper burdened Allan Clayton with the epithet, “rising star”. This year the Daily Telegraph repeated the description in spite of him having already distinguished himself in an impressive range of  major operatic roles with leading companies. So when does a rising star become risen?   There is no question that  his accompanist on this occasion,  Paul Lewis, is a star who has already well risen. Not only is he one of  Britain’s leading pianists but he has a particular reputation for  Schubert playing.  On paper this was a promising pairing and so it proved to be in practice.

Allan Clayton’s  operatic experience in mostly lyric tenor roles served him well in a this  cycle of 20 songs that  tells a classic tale of unrequited love, dragging us through a range of emotions from youthful joy and optimism to suicidal despair. There is, in the background, the poignant fact that Schubert, as a fun-loving 26 year old,  wrote  the work at a time when he was having to accept a diagnosis  of  syphilis and come to terms with the possibility of an early death.

The story is told from the self centre of a  youth  who relates to a Miller’s daughter  more as an mirage  of desire  than a real person. His closest relationships are with objects of nature, particularly the babbling brook that matches his joy at the beginning, and at the end becomes an agent in his death.

Clayton, who is little older than  Schubert was when the cycle was written, had a youthful boisterousness at the start that well matched the rippling piano part that represents the stream. This illustrative accompaniment was a breakthrough in the history of Lieder, being an essential component of the action and it was clear as the cycle unfolded that Lewis and Clayton were at one in their interpretation. Between them they powerfully conveyed the strong contrasts of emotion – between songs  six and eight, for example. Der Neugierige (The Inquisitive One) is quietly contemplative as the Wanderer dialogues with the brook while the following Ungeduld (Impatience) with its soaring phrase “Dein ist mein Herz” (My Heart is yours) expresses the energy of infatuation. Then comes Morgengruß (Morning Greeting) with its gentle  lyrical melodic lines and the first hint of rejection.  Here the piano dialogues in close canonic repetition with the voice and  it was in this song I thought the performers were at their very best, producing a beautiful homogenous sound.

The last  live Die schöne Müllerin I saw was  at the Oxford Schubert Lieder  Festival in October sung by the great Christophe Prégardien. At sixty he has been round the block countless times with this work over a long career and it showed.  His performance had an expressive physicality about it with maximum engagement with the audience. Allan Clayton, idespite being admired for his operatic acting, was not able to replicate this fully because he had  the music on a stand (albeit slightly to his side)  which he was eyeing  occasionally and it became a competitor for the audience’s attention. When he has the confidence to ditch the music his interpretation has the makings of one that in due course could lead him to be regarded as a lieder singer fit to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Prégardien. Let’s hope he can stick with Paul Lewis whose beauty of playing was absolutely peerless.

John Leeman

Allan Clayton and Paul Lewis take Die schöne Müllerin to the Wigmore Hall in London on 29th April


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