CD Review


© Siebe Riedstra, February 2011

Also published by MusicWeb International


Schumann: Liederkreis Op. 24 – Dichterliebe Op. 48

Lachner: Five songs from Sängerfahrt Op 33

Mark Padmore (tenor), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano Erard)

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907521 69'

Click here for our interview with these artists

Mark Padmore (1961) started his musical activities as clarinetist and singer. During the early 1980’s he sang with The Sixteen and the Hilliard Ensemble. With the Hilliards he can be heard on ‘Perotinus’, an ECM album that has meanwhile achieved legendary status. In the 1990’s Padmore worked as a soloist with William Christie, Philippe Herreweghe and John Eliot Gardiner, and was much sought after as the Evangelist in the Passions of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 2002 he appeared for the first time in a lieder recital, singing Schubert’s ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’. His accompanist, Roger Vignoles, encouraged him to concentrate on the lied repertoire, and as a result, Padmore now spends a large amount of his time on the recital podium. He performs with seasoned accompanists: Julius Drake, Graham Johnson and Malcolm Martineau, and has also forged performing relationships with famous pianists: Imogen Cooper, Till Fellner and Paul Lewis. The latter accompanied him in very successful recordings of Schubert’s great song cycles, ‘Die Winterreise’ en ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’.

For his most recent recital tour Padmore opted for a collaboration with fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, an artist who was invited by the label Harmonia Mundi to record Mozart’s complete solo piano music. Padmore dedicated his tour to the poet Heinrich Heine, who was a fount of inspiration for Franz Schubert. Robert Schumann visited Vienna in 1838, ten years after Schubert’s death, and became acquainted with the older composers Ninth Symphony and the song cycles ‘Winterreise’, ‘Müllerin’ and ‘Schwanengesang’. Despite the fact that Schumann initially looked down on the phenomenon Lied, in 1840, just married to Clara, in his new role as family man he felt obliged to provide a more substantial income. Considering the popularity of the lied genre with the middle class in those days, publishing songs was a logical way to bolster his wages. Schumann’s preference for Heinrich Heine was no coincidence. Heine’s ‘Das Buch der Lieder’, published in 1820, enjoyed an immense popularity and inspired nineteenth-century composers to write no less than 8000 songs. On this cd five of those are placed between Schumann’s opus 24 and 48. They were selected from the volume ‘Sängerfahrt’ by Franz Paul Lachner (1803-1890). During the last two years of Schubert’s life Lachner befriended Schubert, who was six years his senior. Lachner’s music pays homage to Schubert, and some of his settings employ texts that have also been composed by Schubert and Schumann. On this recital they are ‘Im Mai’, the opening song of ‘Dichterliebe’ (‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’), and ‘Das Fischermädchen’, also known in a setting by Schubert. They are a resounding testimony of the difference between talent and genius.

On the recordings of Schubert’s ‘Die Winterreise’ and ‘Die schöne Müllerin’ pianist Paul Lewis opted for a modern Steinway. Kristian Bezuidenhout decided upon an 1837 Erard, not exactly a brand that one would associate with Robert en Clara Schumann. Add that Bezuidenhout has his very own and very free way with Mozart, as performed on his first disc for Harmonia Mundi, and a bit of trepidation might enter the prospective listener. Luckily things work out to the contrary: Bezuidenhout lets the music speak for itself, and his instrument sparkles and buzzes quite stylishly. This is exactly the kind of sound on which Padmore’s light tenor rides easily.

Padmore’s voice fits in the tradition of his countrymen Peter Pears, Anthony Rolfe Johnson en Philip Langridge (sadly the last two passed away last year). It carries less weight than Langridge’s, and sounds slightly less warm than Rolfe Johnson’s. Another difference with his great predecessors is that his lighter tenor is not (yet) capable of an operatic role like Peter Grimes. On the British music scene Ian Bostridge, who has an even lighter sound, is another singer who occupies himself on the same level with this repertoire. He has also recorded Schubert’s great cycles, and he also sought the collaboration of famous pianists like Leif Ove Andsnes and Mitsuko Uchida. Both tenors excel in a very clear diction, a phenomenon that appears more often with vocalists that have to sing outside their native language. A slight British accent is a small price to pay.

The differences in interpretation between Bostridge and Padmore are enormous. In a few words: Bostridge ‘interprets’ and in doing so discovers all kinds of details that detract from the essential. In Heine’s woods he pauses at every tree, thus managing to distract from the music and putting his own persona between the composer and the public. Padmore lets the notes speak for themselves, tries to erase himself, and puts the composer on center stage. Or better yet, in his own words, he wants, above all, the poet’s voice to be heard. Both artists have a substantial following. The content of this cd was also the program of Padmore and Bezuidenhout’s recital tour. The concerts they gave in Carnegie and Wigmore Halls met with large audiences and were very favorably discussed in the press. Both Padmore and Bezuidenhout possess rich and sympathetic communicative powers; on cd we have only the sound to consider, but the enjoyment does not suffer. In the song ‘Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome’, with its baritonal opening register, Padmore lacks somewhat in strength, but is royally compensated for that in Bezuidenhout’s sharply etched rhythms – something that seems to stem from his experience in older music.

‘Dichterliebe’ belongs with ‘Winterreise’ and ‘Müllerin’ in the top five of most beloved song cycles, and has, in the course of recorded history, been taped numerous times. Peter Schreier immediately springs to mind as an unforgettable performer in this repertoire. Every generation has its own favorites, who might well be intolerable for the next one - something that becomes apparent upon listening again to the classic performance of Lotte Lehmann and Bruno Walter. Mark Padmore is a tenor for the twenty-first century and in Kris Bezuidenhout he has found an ideal partner. The choice of the instrument plays no mean role in all of this. Together they make a new noise, which has been captured in ideal acoustical circumstances.