Winterreise – Padmore & Vignoles

Die Winterreise, D911 [Gute Nacht; Die Wetterfahne; Gefrorne Tränen; Erstarrung; Der Lindenbaum; Wasserflut; Auf dem Flusse; Rückblick; Irrlicht; Rast; Frühlingstraum; Einsamkeit; Die Post; Der greise Kopf; Die Krähe; Letzte Hoffnung; Im Dorfe; Der stürmische Morgen; Täuschung; Der Wegweiser; Das Wirtshaus; Mut!; Die Nebensonnen; Der Leiermann]

Mark Padmore (tenor) & Roger Vignoles (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 6 December, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Mark Padmore is now 45 and has gained a reputation for his singing of Baroque music; but he has also branched out into the likes of Schumann, Bridge and Chabrier, and has contributed to more than 80 recordings. I was fascinated to hear what Padmore would do with this – the greatest of all song-cycles – given that he has a small voice that is nevertheless well defined, easily produced and well projected.

“Die Winterreise” has been essayed by many types of voices, but for me the ideal voice is a tenor – for which it was written – because the tenor voice brings with it far greater light and shade and thus avoids the unrelenting, obsessive morbidity of, say, Hans Hotter. Having said that, the greatest Lieder singers do have an exceptional range of tone-colours and expressive devices at their command; lighter tenor voices can often lack this. Even the artists responsible for the two greatest accounts of the work I know, Anders and Schreier (the latter live with Richter in 1985), don’t have at their command the expressive resources of Fischer-Dieskau, Hüsch, Allan or Goerne.

“Gute Nacht” was not encouraging. The lyrical line was very sweet but too even and there was no word-painting. I was also concerned about the several examples of poor pronunciation (especially on umlauts). In “Die Wetterfahne” there was the same problem; here, the sense of mocking futility and ultimate torment was not communicated, expression sacrificed to line. The third song was better, the tone was hollow and there was a sense of bitter ferocity in the last line. But in “Der Lindenbaum” the melodic line was not sculpted, and in the penultimate stanza Padmore failed to soar. This approach – tone and line at the expense of expression – continued through the cycle’s first half; only in the second did he begin to inhabit the songs and suggest that there was a desolate and tormented human being at the heart of the cycle.

For example, in “Die Post” the phrasing suggested the rise and fall of the heart and was suitably anguished, while the final line of “Letzte Hoffnung” was a hymn of anguish. In “Im Dorfe” there was a sense of deluded hope and the emphasis on ‘Kissen’ centred the song; in the following two songs there was attack and beautifully sprung and inflected rhythms, but there was no real sense of weariness in the third stanza of “Das Wirtshaus”, and “Mut!” needs a bigger voice. “Der Leiermann” never rose above piano and its stark incantation of misery was only hinted at. This was the main problem with the cycle: Padmore’s voice is still quite pure, but “Winterreise” does require a more interventionist approach. Line and beauty of tone are simply not enough.

Paradoxically, Padmore was let down by his accompanist in that Roger Vignoles gave one of the finest accounts of the piano part I have heard. Every emotion was perfectly captured via supple phrasing, rhythmic subtlety, and an ability to delineate inner voices and beautifully realise Schubert’s modulations. On many occasions I found myself listening to the piano and not the singer, which should not happen in an equal partnership. Indeed, Vignoles seemed to use all of the techniques that Mark Padmore needs to master if he is to become a convincing interpreter of “Die Winterreise”.

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