Vivid Story-telling at the Ilkley Concert Club
Their programme was generous, adding a selection of Schubert’s Moments Musicaux as a prelude to Die Schöne Müllerin, a song-cycle often given as the sole concert item. Paul Lewis had helped the Concert Club choose our new Steinway, and it was good to welcome him back to play ‘his’ instrument whose beautiful tone demonstrated the quality of his judgement. The three contrasted pieces chosen had sufficient meat to make up a short first half. The playing was affectionate and lyrical whilst not eschewing a more emphatic approach when required, something that would be so very evident after the interval.
Both these artists have truly international reputations – what a privilege to have them in Ilkley. Their consummate technical skill is a given. The subtle pianism is a joy and Mark Padmore’s tenor voice has superb control and flexibility and sustained its quality throughout the taxing seventy-minute song cycle. The performance was heard with rapt attention, the audience completely held by the spell these two had cast. Die Schöne Müllerin tells a tale and it was the vivid telling of the tale that so gripped the audience.
Schubert’s piano parts unerringly paint pictures or evoke moods and both elements were vividly portrayed, the pounding mill-wheel, the gently flowing brook, the aggressive hunter, and the miller’s growing obsession with the colour green. Mark Padmore’s use of tone colour is remarkably daring and he is able to express the whole range of the miller’s feelings, the sturdy countryman, the wonder of meeting the mill-girl, his exultation and then his desperation when a rival appears, his sadness and attempted bravado and finally his rejection of life. Both artists gave variety to the strophic songs, finding something new in each verse. Other songs are like mini-operas and their dramatic mood changes were fully realized. The rapport between the players was so close that after the hypnotic ending it almost felt wrong to clap; but heartfelt applause eventually broke out, surely ‘An die Musik’, and for these two wonderful performers.
There are so many recordings of these pieces that it is almost a question of choosing your favourite pianist. I especially enjoy the playing of Stephen Kovacevich on EMI 503423 2 (budget price). The coupling is Schubert’s Piano Sonata No.21. An excellent alternative is the recording by Alfred Brendel on Philips 456061 2 (budget price). The complete Schubert Impromptus take up the rest of the 2 disc set.
Schubert-Die Schöne Müllerin
Tonight’s artists have a new recording which is one of the best available versions, using the Tenor voice. The recording quality is excellent on Harmonia Mundi HMU 907519 (full price). Should you prefer a baritone, the 1961 recording with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore is on EMI 9 65940 2 (budget price). The recording has transferred very well to CD, and both artists were at their superb peak when it was made.