Tuesday 9 August 2016

EIF 2016 - Mark Padmore/Kristian Bezuidenhout at the Queen's Hall, or, A Masterclass in Lieder Singing

This was one of those occasions of music making when it was quite simply a privilege to be present. I wouldn't have predicted this with complete confidence in advance because Bezuidenhout was playing a fortepiano. I can't recall ever hearing one live before, and on broadcasts the sound has often stuck me as a bit tinny and unsatisfactory. But in this case it proved to be the perfect partner to Mark Padmore's voice.

Great lieder performances to my mind require a number of things. Firstly a real dynamic and expressive range to the voice. Secondly, the ability to harness that to a general physical performance resulting in both elements harmonising to command the attention, but without going over the top. This doesn't happen, even at the top level, as often as you might imagine. But it unquestionably happened yesterday morning.

Padmore and Bezuidenhout performed a mixed programme of Beethoven – three individual songs followed by his cycle An die ferne Geliebte and, after the interval, Schubert's last song-cycle Schwanengesang (in fact compiled after his death). As a whole the performance demonstrated in spades Padmore's possession of the qualities mentioned earlier. His control – dynamics varying from the softest pianissimo (sometimes on the highest notes) to the loud heroic/despairing – the voice never, as can happen, sounding strained in those crescendos - and emotion sophistication combining to forge a powerful connection with the listener. He was also assisted by that knack of drawing in the audience with an intensity of eye – as I was sitting to one side I particularly noticed his awareness of the sides of the venue as well as the centre.

While the Beethoven was never less than a pleasure to listen to the most powerful moments came in the Schubert, particularly in a searing performance of the penultimate song, Der Doppelgänger. Finally, during the encore, Beethoven's beautiful Resignation, I closed my eyes and pretty much forgot there was anyone else in the hall. Magical.

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