Mark Padmore & Kristian Bezuidenhout
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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Mark Padmore & Kristian Bezuidenhout

Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center's White Light Festival

THE WANDERER IN WINTERREISE doesn’t know how tired he is until he rests; he doesn’t realize he is crying until the tears freeze on his face. Misery is such a constant companion that he is numb to it, his consciousness of pain frozen out by the winter wind. In Mark Padmore’s searing performance with fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Schubert’s protagonist had moved well beyond self-pity into a stoic acceptance of his grim destiny. The past pleasures remembered in “Die Lindebaum” were here summoned blankly, Padmore’s voice drained of tone. The contemplation of the graveyard in “Der Wirtshaus” became the simplest and starkest of recitations: this Wanderer had no will left to fight his fate. Through the entire cycle, you could feel him descending inexorably into the nihilism of the concluding “Der Leiermann,” so bleakly rendered here that, when the audience rose for a well-deserved ovation, the gesture seemed weirdly incongruous with the devastation the performers had just conjured.

This October 17 Winterreise was the last of three Schubert recitals that Padmore and Bezuidenhout gave at Alice Tully Hall as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. The series opened on October 14 with Die Schöne Müllerin and continued the next night with Schwanengesang, joined by Beethoven’s An die Ferne Geliebter. Pianist Paul Lewis, originally announced for the concerts, had to withdraw for health reasons, but the switch was by no means a comedown. Bezuidenhout is a thoroughly sensitive and imaginative collaborator, and for this listener, who had previously only heard these works with a modern piano, the fortepiano itself provided continual revelations. To take two Winterreise examples: in “Die Krähe,” the instrument gave the beating of the crow’s wings a spectral presence; in the next song, “Letzte Hoffnung,” the plunked notes describing the trees’ sparse foliage achieved a pointillist intensity.

The delicate timbre of the fortepiano also proved a good fit for the specific nature of Padmore’s tenor. His sound was an austere one. He used very little vibrato; on high, the voice verged into falsetto. But he was riveting, performing with a laser-like focus (despite the Tully audience’s inevitable volleys of coughs and cellphone disruptions) that drew me deep into his idiosyncratic interpretations. Perhaps because of the astringency of the sound itself, he brought out Schubert’s pervasive darkness: this was a voice of suffering, not solace. Padmore spoke briefly to the audience at the start of the October 15 recital, explaining that the concept of longing—“Sehnsucht”—bound together the Beethoven cycle and Schwanengesang. Sure enough, even the amorous outpourings of Schubert’s “Liebesbotschaft” carried intimations of sadness: as much as the singer drew solace from thoughts of his far-off beloved, her distance kept her out of his reach. 

Many singers, in the first half of Die Schöne Müllerin, present the protagonist as a bluff, cheerful fellow, anxious about his chances of success in romance. But Padmore’s journeyman was doomed from the start, drawn to entrust his heart to the miller’s daughter even as he sensed the game was already lost. When the piano figuration in “Pause” momentarily dipped into the minor key, the tenor seemed to flinch: this thin-skinned hero knew he was hearing his death knell. A good performance of Schöne Müllerin will inevitably evoke pathos, but Padmore and Bezuidenhout turned it into the starkest of tragedies. This is not the only way to perform Schubert, but the insights that the two musicians brought to his music, over three enthralling evenings, will stay with me a long time.  —Fred Cohn 


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