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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die schöne Müllerin, D 795 (1823)
1. Das Wandern [2:45]
2. Wohin? [2:36]
3. Halt! [1:41]
4. Danksagung an den Bach [2:40]
5. Am Feierabend [2:50]
6. Der Neugierige [4:28]
7. Ungeduld [2:51]
8. Morgengruss [5:05]
9. Des Müllers Blumen [3:39]
10. Tränenregen [4:33]
11. Mein! [2:37]
12. Pause [5:19]
13. Mit dem grünen Lautenbande [2:03]
14. Der Jäger [1:11]
15. Eifersucht und Stolz [1:43]
16. Die liebe Farbe [4:34]
17. Die böse Farbe [2:08]
18. Trockne Blumen [4:08]
19. Der Müller und der Bach [4:41]
20. Des Baches Wiegenlied [6:54]
Mark Padmore (tenor); Paul Lewis (piano)
rec. September 2009, Air Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London
German text and English and French translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU 907519 [69:25]

Experience Classicsonline

Last autumn I warmly welcomed an excellent Winterreise by these same artists. That particular recording was a very welcome follow-up to a live performance that I’d reviewed at the 2008 Cheltenham International Festival. At the same Festival, which featured performances of all three Schubert song-cycles, Paul Lewis had taken part in a performance of Die schöne Müllerin (review). On that occasion he partnered the young English tenor, Allan Clayton. Now, as the second instalment of their project to record the three cycles for Harmonia Mundi, Lewis and Mark Padmore have taken into the studio their interpretation of Schubert’s first Wilhelm Müller cycle.

Around the time of making this recording Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis performed the cycle at the Wigmore Hall. Mark Berry, who reviewed the recital, found a good deal to admire in Padmore’s singing but also expressed some reservations, noting a rather limited range of tone. For Paul Lewis’s contribution at the piano he had nothing but praise. Though I remembered reading Mark’s review at the time – and thinking that a recording must surely be in the offing – I deliberately refrained from revisiting it until I’d completed my appraisal of this disc. I’m not surprised to find that we’re at one in our approval of Paul Lewis’s contribution. I also agree with Mark’s positive points about Mark Padmore, not least his narrative skills and the clarity of his words. I can see what he means about the English tenor tone. I must say this wasn’t such an issue for me but other listeners may come down on Mark’s side of the discussion so intending purchasers would be advised to read his comments as well as mine.

I’ll declare straightaway that I found this to be a very impressive traversal of Die schöne Müllerin. Both artists display consistent intelligence and musicality and it’s evident that they identify strongly with Schubert’s music. Padmore’s singing provides a constant source of pleasure. His tone is light for the most part – which I think is appropriate to a set of songs about a young man – but he can deploy a touch of steel and some tonal weight when required. His diction is exemplary and so far as I could tell his German is excellent. I’m not a German speaker but I recall that when I heard him sing Winterreise at Cheltenham in 2008 I fell into conversation with a lady afterwards who was a native German speaker and who commented favourably on his German.

As for Paul Lewis, his contribution is marvellous. He is truly sensitive both to the music and to the needs of the singer and he forms a real partnership with Padmore: he is no “mere” accompanist. My listening notes contain a large number of comments about particularly pleasing features in the piano part. Indeed, he impresses right at the very start with the sturdy vigour that he brings to ‘Das Wandern’. In ‘Wohin?’ the rippling piano figurations are beautifully placed. Later on, in ‘Morgengruss’ he voices perfectly the pianist’s repetition of the singer’s melody in the last line of each stanza. His touch in ‘Der Neugierige’ is delightfully subtle while his driving playing gives great impetus to ‘Der Jäger’.

But no matter how skilful the pianism, a performance of Die schöne Müllerin stands or falls by the quality of the singing and, in my opinion, Mark Padmore really delivers. In the early part of the cycle he is successful in depicting the naïve, eager youth. His legato phrasing in ‘Wohin?’ is excellent, as is also the case in ‘Danksagung an den Bach’, in which there are some beautifully produced soft high notes to savour. In the following song, ‘Am Feierabend’ he evinces ardour and determination in the first stanza and, when that music is reprised, he introduces a note of desperation. In between, in the central section of the song, I especially admired the lovely quiet high note on the word “allen”.

‘Morgengruss’ is a splendid strophic lied and Padmore does it extremely well, not least in conveying the longing in the last line of each stanza. As the cycle unfolds I like the exhilaration he brings to ‘Mein!’, mistakenly believing that he’s won the affections of the Miller’s daughter. In ‘Der Jäger’ his articulation of the words is biting. He takes the song at a properly fast tempo but, unlike James Gilchrist in a recording that I reviewed recently, there’s never any feeling that the words are snatched: Padmore gives himself enough space. The tone he strikes in ‘Die liebe Farbe’ is plaintive and regretful while in ‘Die böse Farbe’ the listener can sense the youth thrashing around in uncertainty and despair.

As the cycle reaches its tragic dénouement both artists rise to the moment. Lewis plays with great sensitivity in ‘Trockne Blumen’. The textures in this song are very spare; Schubert uses limited means to get the poignant message across. As he’s done so often in the preceding songs, Padmore displays expert control, reducing to half-voice at times. It’s an intimate, confiding reading from both musicians. At “Und wenn sie wandelt” the mood changes, becoming more intense and Padmore excels here. In ‘Der Müller und der Bach’ Padmore conveys the pathos of the young man’s stanzas but warms his tone suitably for the stanzas in which the brook replies. In this song the top of his voice is free and easy – but that’s a comment I could have made about almost any of the twenty songs in the cycle. Finally ‘Des Baches Wiegenlied’ is gently consoling. The pace is easeful and both singer and pianist sustain the musical line expertly in a touching conclusion to their fine performance.

This CD is a worthy successor to these performers’ persuasive account of Winterreise. Mark Padmore’s voice and his way with these fresh and eloquent songs is very much to my taste and his excellent singing is enhanced greatly by the presence of so perceptive a partner as Paul Lewis. Though there are many excellent versions of Die schöne Müllerin in the catalogue those who share my preference for a tenor in these songs should most definitely hear this CD. The recorded sound is excellent and the booklet is very good and is clearly printed.

I believe that Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis are to record Schwanengesang in the near future. I eagerly await the release of that disc in 2011.

John Quinn

























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