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Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout: “Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart" 

spacer Songs. Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907611

Recordings Padmore Bezuidenhout Beethoven Cover 815

If you make it through the opening tracks of Mark Padmore’s newest lieder-recital disc — or better yet, skip the overindulgent, mannered Haydn set altogether — you’ll be rewarded with imaginative, committed performances, especially of some out-of-the-way Beethoven songs.

Throughout the recital, Kristian Bezuidenhout coaxes an enormous range of colors from the fortepiano, with glittering runs, delicate melodies and varying attack, phrasing constantly while letting extreme dynamics speak forcefully. Padmore attempts a similar rhetorical style, but too often the straight tones and blanched-out vowels sound exaggerated and bizarre.

Mozart’s beloved “Das Veilchen” receives a less extreme treatment, although the wild tempo changes in this short piece seem to poke fun at the innocent, simple text. Padmore seems reluctant to make an attractive sound, overthinking “Abendempfindung” and draining it of sincerity. Bezuidenhout sets up a majestic opening for Mozart’s masonic “Die ihr des unermesslichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt,” and Padmore meets the challenge with full voice, nuanced yet without overstatement.

Everything improves in the Beethoven set. Padmore whispers, articulates and energizes the consonants in “Neue Liebe, neues Leben,” ascending to feather-light high notes, and he finds an outlet for his love of creepy tones in the song of the flea from Goethe’s Faust. Having spurned love, the narrator of “Selbstgespräch” finds himself in love with Doris, the bland shepherdess of so many Arcadian lyrics, and Padmore babbles delightfully about the most beautiful tyrant of his desires. 

For “An die Ferne Geliebte,” Padmore combines sincerity with his vocal shadings in a mature interpretation. “An die Hoffnung,” Beethoven’s rhapsodic setting of a philosophical, spiritual poem, boldly begins, “Is there a God?,” and Padmore and Bezuidenhout explore poet Christoph August Tiedge’s various answers with probing intensity. A more realistic glimmer of the composer’s nature-based spirituality is afforded in the concluding “Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel,” a disarmingly simple strophic setting, rangy in vocal compass and surprising in its melodic turns. Bezuidenhout’s harp-like chords bring the disc to an ethereal close. spacer

JUDITH MALAFRONTE

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