Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mark Padmore sings Ludwig van Beethoven & Franz Schubert

World-renowned English tenor Mark Padmore makes his Library of Congress debut in a recital with pianist Andrew West. On the program are Beethoven's "Mailied", Op.52 No.4, "Neue Liebe, neues Leben", Op.75 No.2, "Adelaide", Op.46, "An die ferne Geliebte", Op.98, as well as Schubert's song cycle "Schwanengesang", D.957. The concert recorded at the Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium (Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington), on October 17, 2016.

Mark Padmore is not a superstar, in the best meaning of the phrase. Two years ago, the British tenor drew only a half-filled audience for a local recital that turned out to be one of the year's best. His recordings, superlative though they are, do not begin to convey the refinement and disarming subtlety of his live performances. The Library of Congress offered another chance to experience this distinctive voice on Monday evening.

The 2014 recital ended with a single encore, the song "Ständchen" from Schubert's Schwanengesang. That set of songs, grouped together by the composer's publisher after Schubert's death, became the focus of this program. Rather than a true cycle, Schwanengesang is a chimera consisting of two longer sets of poems by Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine, plus a single poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl, believed to be the last from Schubert's pen.

Padmore made the strongest case possible for the collection's dramatic unity. The message from the carrier pigeon in the final song, "Die Taubenpost", as Padmore reminded us in a brief, eloquent comment, is "die Sehnsucht" (longing). Running through Padmore's interpretation was that sense of yearning for love, so poignant in the thoughts of the dying Schubert, not yet even thirty-two years old.

From the first song, "Liebesbotschaft" (Message of love), Padmore took us through various memories of love haunted by death, caressing each phrase with results both enigmatic and powerful. In "Kriegers Ahnung" (Soldier's foreboding), the memory of love briefly comforted a soldier surrounded by his dead comrades. Padmore can howl with anguish, as in "Der Atlas", but his is not a voice characterized by heroic power. Subtlety is more his calling card, as in the gloomy melancholy of "Ständchen" and the fleeting happiness of "Das Fischermädchen" (The fisher maiden).

Andrew West was a steadfast musical partner at the piano. His sound overwhelmed Padmore's voice too often, a situation that could have been helped by lowering the instrument's lid to the small peg. West helped establish the mood in the set’s most striking songs, like the ethereal arpeggiations on fully diminished seventh chords in the eerie "Die Stadt", turning this poem into something like a voyage in the hellish boat of Charon.

Padmore's recording of the collection's climactic song "Der Doppelgänger" is memorable but left one prepared for the power of this song in live performance. It is the most sinister song Schubert ever wrote, surpassing the somewhat cartoonish "Erlkönig", among other candidates. In Heine's poem the narrator visits the former house of his lost love, only to find his own ghostly double, like a demon possessing the place. The image that Padmore and West created, of Schubert looking at his own love-haunted and spectral self, was powerful and overwhelming.

A memory slip at the start of "Abschied", requiring Padmore to look over West's shoulder to remind himself of the words and then restart the song, interrupted the flow but only temporarily. The insistent applause of some audience members after some of the songs was even more distracting, an unusual lack of decorum for the generally learned and silent audience at the Library of Congress.

The theme of longing tied the second half together with a first half of Beethoven songs, centered on the song "Adelaide" and the mini-cycle An die ferne geliebte, both of which Padmore released on disc just last year.

In "Adelaide" the heroic demands at the top of the vocal range strained Padmore's voice, but he still sang with the phrases melting into one another beautifully. The cycle itself is almost perfectly suited to the strengths of Padmore's voice. In particular the otherwise ordinary second stanza of "Wo die Berge so blau", where the singer recites plainly on a single muted note while the piano fills in the melody, was magical.

One particular moment tied the whole evening together, in the cycle's final song. In the third stanza, Padmore and West came to an almost complete halt, filling the words "you sing what I have sung from deep within, only conscious of longing" with heartfelt tenderness. This laid the groundwork for the song's triumphant finish, with Padmore's ecstatic, resounidng repetitions of the final words, reminiscent of the joyous conclusion to the composer's opera Fidelio and Ninth Symphony.

Source: Charles T. Downey,  October 18, 2016 (

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

♪ 8 Lieder, Op.52 (1790-1805), iv. Maigesang [02:55]*

♪ 6 Gesänge, Op.75 (1809), ii. Neue Liebe, neues Leben

♪ Adelaide, Οp.46 (1795-1796)

♪ An die ferne Geliebte, Οp.98 (1816)

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

♪ Schwanengesang, D.957 (1828) [30:40]

i. Liebesbotschaft
ii. Kriegers Ahnung
iii. Frühlingssehnsucht
iv. Ständchen
v. Aufenthalt
vi. In der Ferne
vii. Abschied
viii. Der Atlas
ix. Ihr Bild
x. Das Fischermädchen
xi. Die Stadt
xii. Am Meer
xiii. Der Doppelgänger
xiv. Die Taubenpost

Mark Padmore, tenor
Andrew West, piano

The Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium (Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington), October 17, 2016

(HD 720p)

* Start time

Tenor Mark Padmore is one of the most sought after vocalists on the international art music scene. A native of London, he studied at King's College, Cambridge and has received critical acclaim for his work in opera, the concert stage, and vocal recitals. His appearances as the Evangelist in the Bach St John Passion and St Matthew Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic have catapulted Padmore into a status as one of the foremost interpreters of the famed vocal roles. He has performed at opera houses such as London's Royal Opera and English National Opera, Glyndebourne, and the Aldeburgh Festival. Orchestral appearances include the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, and the Royal Concertebouw Orchestra. He is the 2016 Musical America vocalist of the year and holds an honorary doctorate from Kent University.

Pianist Andrew West is professor of accompaniment and chamber music at the Royal Academy of Music in London and is a regular recital partner with singers such as Mark Padmore and Roderick Williams. He is the artistic director of the Nuremberg Chamber Music Festival and was a guest artist at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in 2016. He is a longtime duo partner of flutist Emily Beynon.


Franz Schubert: Schwanengesang (Swan Song), song cycle for voice and piano, D.957

Before his death in 1828, Franz Schubert had completed portions of two projected song cycles – one on poems by Ludwig Rellstab, and the other on poems of Heinrich Heine. These cycle fragments, representing a total of thirteen songs, were collected after the composer's death by his brother, Ferdinand Schubert, and one of his publishers, Tobias Haslinger, who then added "Die Taubenpost" and published all fourteen as Schwanengesang (Swan Song) in 1829.

It is impossible to know how much thought these men gave to their hodgepodge; it is likely that their motives were entirely commercial (the Heine songs, in particular, showed promise as moneymakers). So one should not examine Schwanengesang in the same light as Schubert's two earlier cycles, Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, both of which were conceived of as wholes by the composer. Schwanengesang lacks the literal sense of journey that accompanies the other cycles, and so also their sense of interpretive architecture; however, true "cycle" or not (a debatable point), it possesses enormous musical variety and emotional scope. It crystallizes the musical and literary currents present in Schubert's thinking at the time of his death, and hints at the creative paths he might have followed had he enjoyed the luxury of more time. At the very least, Schwanengesang showcases Schubert's flexible response to poetry and revisits the archetypes of song and sentiment that populate his output overall. Here we have "riding" songs and "wandering" songs, the friendly brook and the crashing wave, virtuosity and musical economy, all juxtaposed – as appropriate a swan song as could be for one of the greatest song composers of all time.

The seven Rellstab poems that form the first half of Schwanengesang were originally given to Beethoven for consideration, but Beethoven died before he had a chance to set them. The composer's secretary then passed them on to Schubert. Schubert's settings magnify the robust and conventional style of Rellstab's language; they exploit the composer's fondness for unusual modulation and active piano figurations, but they rarely challenge one's sense of the normal or expected. The joy of the Rellstab songs lies in their journey from one mood to the next in the seamless way that is so typical of Schubert.

Schubert became acquainted with Heine's Buch der Lieder (Book of Songs) through one of the reading groups that gradually displaced the famous "Schubertiades" (informal concerts of his works) in the last years of the composer's life. The six settings from this collection that are included in Schwanengesang clearly demonstrate the degree to which Schubert rethought musical structure in response to poetry. A conventional setting like "Das Fischermädchen" (The Fisher Girl) – full of tongue-in-cheek elegance – finds itself juxtaposed with "Die Stadt" (The City), in which the composer actually departs from functional tonality. These songs are entirely about mood and irony, and they leave traditional concepts of beauty and lyricism behind. In "Der Doppelgänger", Schubert weaves together the archaic technique of ostinato with vocal declamation that comes strikingly close to Sprechgesang ("speech-song") – a device that was fully a half century ahead of its time.

"Die Taubenpost" (The Carrier Pigeon) is a charming setting of Johann Gabriel Seidl, who provided texts for a number of Schubert's songs ("Der Wanderer an den Mond" is a well-known example). If anything, "Die Taubenpost" is an example of the way Schubert could transform a poem of modest quality into an especially memorable song. Not relating to the rest of Schwanengesang in any way, it was perhaps included to mitigate the very dark sentiment of the Heine settings and end the cycle on an upbeat note.

Source: Allen Schrott (

More photos

See also

Franz Schubert: Winterreise – Thomas Oliemans, Malcolm Martineau (HD 1080p)

Franz Schubert: Winterreise – Ian Bostridge, Julius Drake

Mahan Esfahani: Harpsichord Concert – Johann Kuhnau, JS Bach, WF Bach, CPE Bach, Bohuslav Martinů, Sergei Prokofiev (HD 1080p)

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