United Kingdom Schubert: Mark Padmore (tenor), Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 13.12.2017. (CC)
Schubert – Winterreise
We English love to talk about the weather: no sooner had Esa-Pekka Salonen dismissed our inability to cope with a light glaze of the white stuff at the very opening of his composer day at the Barbican, then John Gilhooly in his spoken introduction (programmed as postlude) to this concert informed us if we thought this was bad we should see Vienna (from where he had flown in that very morning). I sense a theme.
The speech was about the fundraising element of this concert for the Wigmore itself, with both Premier League artists donating their services for free. Quite a choice: Winterreise, extraordinarily apt as we the audience made our respective Winterreisen to hear the Winterreise to top them all.
Padmore and Uchida delivered a thought-provoking, often uncomfortable Winterreise. Although a unified vision, one could identify the individual personalities and their strengths: for Uchida, a sense of depth and desolation, the slow movements of the late Sonatas sometimes a hair’s-breadth away, coupled with a clear sense of overarching direction, the final ‘Der Leiermann’ at once an inevitability and an invitation to Other Worlds beyond physical conditions of the cold and the weary; for Padmore, an exploration of multiple aspects of angst and resigned Weltschmerz, as if holding the wanderer’s plight up to the light to glisten, the glancing light sometimes white, sometimes grey, sometimes a matt black sun.
The restraint of Uchida at the outset was balanced by Padmore’s blanched tone. Uchida is a supreme performer in this repertoire – ‘accompanist’ does not seem to cover it, as she floods the piano part with individuality and a raft of insights while simultaneously co-creating with her soloist. The discomfiting aspect of the interpretation was laid starkly bare as early as the angular lines of the second song, ‘Die Wetterfahne’ and the ultra-staccato of the third, ‘Geforne Tränen’ (the latter an aspect even more pronounced in the near-pointillist staccato of the later ‘Letzte Hoffnung’). To experience the near-fairy-tale ‘Der Lindenbaum’ through this prism was to see an illusion of an unattainable dream made all the more stark because, as the cycle unfolded, one became aware that the creepy, creeping undercurrent of the opening was pretty much omnipresent. The barren ‘Irrlicht’ seemed a statement of the default emotion of Winterreise here; Uchida’s simply gorgeous tone in ‘Frühlingstraum’ set up a false sense of security in a song that was more fractured and sectionalised than in any reading I’ve heard.
Padmore’s diction was superb throughout, so much so that one hardly needed the text. His pitching was not quite as consistent, but not far off. His characterisation could be remarkable, nowhere more so than in the remarkable ‘Der stürmische Morgen’, here a close relative to Wolf’s disturbing ‘Feuerreiter’. The blanched tone of ‘Der Wegweiser’ reinforced the inevitability of the end. Uchida’s rich bass end for ‘Die Nebensonnen’ seemed to reference those later sonatas before the chilling ‘Der Leiermann’ took our protagonist to the next, post-mortem stage of his journey.
It is almost inconceivable that one should ever not be moved by Schubert and Müller’s Winterreise. Padmore and Uchida of course achieved this, and more, adding their own layer of interpretation. Far from the pretty much unremitting darkness of the likes of, say, Hotter with Raucheisen, this was a tortured, multidirectional voyage through torment. The very definition of the Romantic ethos, perhaps.