The partnership of Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis is guaranteed to offer fresh perspectives on Lieder repertoire and this Wigmore Hall recital put the focus on the poetry of Heinrich Heine, set so differently by Brahms and Schumann.
Heine’s inimitable and complex love-verse combines mordant wit with hallucinatory dream states, a dichotomy which appealed to Schumann and also to Schubert at the end of his short life. The opening group of songs revealed Brahms’s more orthodox approach to Heine’s deceptively simple lyrics, whether seasonal irony – the joy and expectation of love in Spring reflected in the river as a shepherdess weaves a garland for her lover – with a switch from hope to torment and disappointment. Contrasting moods of a Summer evening and a moon-bathed landscape all gave way to melancholy in the following settings – leading to the dramatic and eerie mystery of a sea journey and the oppressive desolation of death being a cool night. From Padmore and Lewis the emotional and musical momentum was palpable as each number progressed in a downward spiral of desperation.
Padmore and Lewis next experimented with a tenor transposition of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, during which the singer’s playful enunciation perfectly captured the love aspects as well as the exquisite perfume of the linden tree. The heightened emotional range and spiritual questioning of ‘Um Mitternacht’ was thoughtfully conveyed, and although the top of the voice showed a little strain, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ was moving in the extreme, with sensitive dynamics and gorgeous pianism.
The second half was given over to a complete performance of Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, the original twenty Heine songs, rather than the sixteen usually given. Padmore was in perfect command here. Faultless vocal articulation brought the cycle to intense life, illuminating the poems’ meaning throughout. The trance-like vocal lines were often at odds with Lewis’s striking and original approach to the accompaniment; and, in this way, Heine’s bitter juxtapositions and wild humour came across with surreal tension, which was highly effective. Two of the four additional songs highlight the Romantic trope of the dead bride. Schumann may have removed the songs as they did not auger well for his future relationship with Clara, to whom Dichterliebe was presented. It provided an interesting opportunity nevertheless to hear the cycle as originally written.