This beautifully constructed recital led us through time from the Classical period into to the more overtly expressive output of Schumann, an interesting aural examination of the development of the Lied from both the vocal and pianistic standpoints. In the first half Mark Padmore and Simon Lepper also resisted simply grouping the songs by composer but bunched several into collections as specially-themed cycles, Padmore announcing these genially.
Thus, the programme started with two Haydn English-language songs (including from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, singer and pianist skilfully conjuring a sombre atmosphere and setting their scenery) and continuing with a flower-themed grouping initiated by the final Haydn song, with the Mozart offerings following and finally Beethoven’s ‘Adelaide’, Lepper bringing out the emergence of the increased complexity and importance of the accompaniments. Padmore’s lovely mellifluous singing, free and airy in the upper reaches and richly solemn in the depths, was also notable for his infrequent use of full vibrato, thereby infusing the more sorrowful texts with emotional directness.
The next four Beethoven settings with texts by Goethe and Gleim were billed as reflecting Germanic humour – Padmore wryly expressing a desire to shake off a reputation for singing sad songs and a wish to celebrate one in praise of a lady called Doris! The episode was indeed lighter – ‘Mailied’ was full of playful pianistic flourishes and ‘Neue Liebe, neues Leben’ infectious rhythmic impetus. Both performers exploited the flea-infested text and accompaniment to ‘Es war einmal ein König’ from Goethe’s Faust to the full. The final Beethoven numbers saw Padmore reverting to a more reflective mode – and with lovely word-painting.
The second half brought us definitively, almost explosively at its start, into the Romantic world with Schumann’s Kerner-Lieder, growing in intensity as it progressed, the duo maintaining such potency to the end, helped by their keeping the breaks between songs to the bare minimum. ‘Stille Tränen’ was the emotional core, Padmore bringing vehemence, vigour and a hint of desperation, and the cycle was brought to an oddly unsettling yet contemplative conclusion. A rapt account of Brahms’s ‘Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht’ was the appropriate and nothing-left-to-say encore.