United States Schumann, Brahms: Mark Padmore (tenor), Paul Lewis (piano), Alice Tully Hall, New York, 19.4.2018. (RP)
Schumann – Liederkreis Op.24, Dichterliebe Op.48
Brahms – ‘Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze’ Op.71 No.1, ‘Sommerabend’ Op.85 No. 1, ‘Mondenschein’ Op.85 No.2, ‘Es schauen die Blumen Meerfahrt’ Op.96 No.4, ‘Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht’ Op.96 No.1
Mark Padmore has carved a career in the niches of the repertoire suitable to his voice. His approach to songs by German composers has yielded provocative, powerful and penetrating interpretations.
Time, however, has robbed Padmore’s voice of its sheen, and his upper range has hardened. Nonetheless, his ability to penetrate the meaning of a text and communicate it with his voice is undiminished. If he had sung only Schumann’s Dichterliebe, I would have left this recital marveling at his artistry: there are other singers with more impressive vocal gifts, but Padmore’s compelling interpretation of Schumann’s great song cycle is his alone.
Although it and Liederkreis both date from 1840, they are made up of very different types of songs. Padmore’s conversational approach worked in ones such as ‘Morgens steh’ ich auf und frage’ and ‘Berg’ und Burgen schaun herunter’, with the latter special for its tender mood and soft singing. The glories of the cycle, however, are ‘Schöne Wiege meine Leiden’ and the concluding ‘Mit Myrten und Rosen’. He sang notes instead of phrases, and his half-voiced, tentative high notes robbed the sweeping lines of their climaxes, and thus their passion.
He fared better in the Brahms songs that followed, although his top notes continued to be problematic. ‘Es schauen die Blumen’ was sung with his signature ethereal sound and was quite beautiful, and ‘Meerfahrt’, which followed it, was the most satisfying song of the first half of the recital. ‘Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht’ concluded the set and suffered the same fate as the earlier, heavier Schumann. It was the first time ever that this exquisitely poignant song has failed to move me.
A different singer stepped out on stage after the intermission. Padmore’s voice was fuller, his diction was fleet and crisp and, most importantly, there was emotion in his singing. The simplest and lightest of the songs took flight. ‘Ich grolle nicht’ was wonderful. The climax, where he sang bitterly of a lost love and the blackness of her heart, was seething with intensity. No matter if the high notes did not ring free, they were there. Moreover, there was passion.
Paul Lewis was simply superb at the piano. He created an air of intimacy surrounding each song that immediately drew the listener into the drama. The emotion that he packed into every song, within a fairly compact dynamic range, was remarkable. His phrasings and dynamics were perfectly in sync with Padmore’s intentions. When Padmore was at his best, their combined artistry was stunning.