Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis

GERMAN ROMANTIC LIEDER AT THEIR BEST


MARK PADMORE AND PAUL LEWIS
Birmingham Town Hall ****
So many insights were revealed in this enthralling recital performed by two of the most popular British artists on the concert-platform, not least in Mahler's five Ruckert-Lieder given in their original voice and piano scoring.
As Mark Padmore pointed out, in their orchestral version we normally hear them sung by mezzo or baritone, but here was an opportunity to hear them with the nuances of a tenor voice. Everything came across as far more intimate and spontaneous than it possibly could with a large symphony orchestra and conductor, with Paul Lewis' piano contributions now delicate, now busy, and coping with all the often unidiomatic aspects of Mahler's idiosyncratic keyboard-writing as he matched Padmore's visionary growth in intensity towards the end of Um Mitternacht. After this "Ich bin der Welt abhanden Gekommen" came as resigned solace, Padmore's eloquent body-language communicating quiet repose as Lewis delivered the touching postlude.
Heine was the other poet featured in this feast of German romanticism, beginning with six Lieder by Brahms which occasionally hinted at the sound-world of the Wesendonck-Lieder by Wagner, a composer we are usually told is the cheese to Brahms' chalk. Padmore brought fluting head-notes and creamy phrasing to these gems, but just occasionally Lewis' full-toned pianism over-balanced his vocalist.
And this was more evident in Schumann's ineffable Dichterliebe, Heine settings which leap with ardour, weep with disappointment, and snarl with grim irony. Musical styles alternate between inward ruminations and folky parody, and the duo encompassed this rich gamut of emotions with generous expressiveness, as well as giving the four extra songs Schumann eventually excised from publication (they add little to the sequence).
But as Padmore semi-jokingly said, these are piano works with vocal accompaniment, and the full textures of the keyboard-writing did sometimes cloud the vocalist, particularly when the voice descended into its lowest register. Padmore's selfless poise allowed us to savour the piano's extensive postludes in an account from both gentlemen which reflected all the poetry of these remarkable texts -- which many members of the enthusiastic audience couldn't read, as apparently there was a shortage of the excellent programme-books.
Christopher Morley

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