Mark Padmore / Julius Drake - Wigmore Hall, 21 May 2008
Mark Padmore made the point in his excellent programme note - as reproduced in the Guardian - that 'Winterreise starts almost where Die Schöne Müllerin leaves off'. I don't see as much in common as that suggests, and I wonder if Padmore really does either, because his approach to tonight's Winterreise bore little relation to his Schöne Müllerin of a couple of nights before.
What made the most difference was his total commitment and confidence. The other night he'd hidden behind the loveliness of his voice for much of the cycle. But here, he had a clear idea of where he was going, and not even the odd slipped note could divert him.
This was a Winterreise of neurosis punctuated with ferocious self-loathing, not so much a journey as an unchecked torrent of despair, brought to a stuttering lull in dawning self-knowledge at Der Wegweiser before continuing to its bleak and bitter end.
Although Padmore was in fine voice, he made beautiful sounds very sparingly, limiting them to the more wistful and reflective moments like Der Lindenbaum and Frühlingstraum. The effect was all the more telling for its rarity. Elsewhere he underlined mental instability with explosive dynamic contrasts, almost shouting lines like the last one of Die Wetterfahne, 'Ihr Kind is eine reiche Braut' - this was heartfelt fury, not the sneering dismissal it's often portrayed with. Sincerity is so much harder to convey than irony, but this is the course Padmore chose, and he succeeded.
Julius Drake provided spirited and equally strong-willed accompaniment. Indeed there was a moment of tension right at the start in Gute Nacht when Drake seemed to be pushing on while Padmore pulled back - if this was intentional, it was inspired, because it really sounded as if they were about to fall apart. Reviewers never seem to find any fault with Drake's playing. Unlike them, I sometimes find Drake's own firmly-expressed ideas, his interventionist style, to intrude on a real sense of partnership. But paradoxically, that's his strength as well. His idiosyncratically powerful contributions to Rast and Täuschung were not only radically different from the conventional but entirely in keeping with the boldness of Padmore's interpretation.
Their final song, Der Leiermann, sounded, quite properly, like the last song at the end of the world.
Peter Anders made one of the greatest Winterreise recordings with Gerald Moore in 1945. The voice is less beautiful than Padmore's, and the style more operatic, but the existential despair is all there: