United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2016 (3) – Beethoven, Schubert: Mark Padmore (tenor), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano), Queen’s Hall, 8.8.2016. (SRT)
Beethoven: Songs, including An die Ferne Geliebte
Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout are well established lieder accomplices. They’ve already recorded the Beethoven songs they sang today, and you can tell that they understand each other as partners, so great is Bezuidenhout’s responsiveness to Padmore’s vocal line. Indeed, Padmore sounded better this morning than I’ve heard him in a long time, only occasionally a little stretched on the top in the Beethoven; but then, it was 11am, and you can forgive a singer almost anything before lunchtime!
In fact, their Beethoven selection was as good an argument as you’ll hear for Beethoven’s merits as a song composer, full of Romantic bliss-in-nature in Mailied and, as in their CD, making Abendlied sound like a mystical voyage beyond the Romantic consciousness and into an almost Wagnerian world of self-abnegation. It has taken me a long time to get to like the fortepiano, and I admit that I still struggle with it in concertos, but if Bezuidenhout’s playing doesn’t win you over then nothing will. The gentler sound of his keys makes the rustle of the nature music and the tinkle of birdsong sound all of a piece with the voice, never threatening to overwhelm and always sounding like an equal partner. I quickly moved from scepticism about the instrument to realising I was witnessing the workings of someone at the very forefront of his field, not least because he understands how Beethoven’s music works within the context of its own time.
The Schubert section was, if anything, even finer. Padmore seemed to raise his game to a higher level, meeting Schubert’s (frankly finer) songs with sensitivity and responding to the deep longing expressed in the poems. He was darkly ominous in the song of the warrior’s foreboding, bleak in In der Ferne and desperate in Ihr Bild, while the tinkle of Bezuidenhout’s fortepiano seemed to suit marvellously the nature pictures of Liebesbotschaft and Frühlingssehnsucht, a song whose every stanza seemed to hinge on the final word of Padmore’s intelligent singing. Both were at their finest, and darkest, in Der Doppelgänger, one of Schubert’s most psychologically unsettling songs. Going from this straight into carefree whimsy of Die Taubenpost might have been psychologically jarring, but it acted as a not unwelcome airlock to get us from the agony of lost love into the hum-drum cares of the everyday.
This concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and can be heard again here.
The 2016 Edinburgh International Festival runs until Monday 29th August at venues across the city. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk.