Mark Padmore/Till Fellner - Wigmore Hall, 19 May 2008
Tonight's Die schöne Müllerin was the first of Mark Padmore's hotly anticipated, sold out months ago trio of Schubert cycles at the Wigmore Hall. Winterreise follows on Wednesday and Schwanengesang on Saturday.
It was a frustrating hour, with only a few high spots offering a glimpse of what Padmore might be capable of. While it was far from terrible, it was also from a singer of his abilities and experience disappointingly close to average. He simply wasn't able to sustain the dramatic arc of the cycle, to take us on that emotional journey. The fracturing of the sequence was tellingly emphasised by a hail of inter-song coughing.
More critically, many of the songs were skimmed through in an adept but bland style, finely-crafted and superficially attractive singing that gave little weight to meaning. Padmore had a few technical problems, particularly in his upper range,and it crossed my mind that his reserve might have something to do with not wanting to risk any further exposure of these. What should have been the first dramatic peak of the cycle, Ungeduld, turned out to be something of a damp squib, creamily purred through without a hint of passion. Mein had a little more thrust behind it, but little warmth - the effect was joyless and almost creepy, like the ramblings of some unhinged stalker.
Although Till Fellner provided refined and sensitive accompaniment, it couldn't provide the magic that was needed here - if anything it reinforced Padmore's emotional detachment.
It wasn't until Padmore was close to the end, with the suicidal Die liebe Farbe, that voice and heart clicked into place, and I could finally believe what he was singing. The last five songs were a hint of what might have been, a glorious melding of intelligence, interpretative sensitivity and impeccable technique. I just hope he can find some more of whatever that is for Wednesday's Winterreise, because it'll be a long night otherwise.
This concert was recorded and will be broadcast on Radio 3 on 28 May at 7pm.
One of the finest recorded versions of Die schöne Müllerin comes from the exquisitely friable tenor of Aksel Schiøtz. Recorded in 1945 with Gerald Moore, here are the first twelve songs of the cycle auf Muxtape.