We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Jonathan Biss and Mark Padmore at Zankel Hall

"They came for the sonata and stayed for the lieder" was the thought we entertained last night at Zankel Hall . It is rare that we attend a vocal recital without knowing at least a dozen people in the audience; last night there was a different audience from the one we see at vocal recitals and we had wondered whether they would enjoy the Schubert lieder on the second half of the program.  We needn't have concerned ourselves. The audience was held spellbound by Mr. Padmore's artistry and if they were not fans of lieder before the recital they surely will now be converts.

Although Mr. Padmore is a mature artist, the timbre of his voice is very youthful whilst his interpretive skills have been earned by experience. Moreover, he addressed the audience in a most gracious manner and spoke about the program, something we always appreciate.

The generous program comprised songs written toward the end of Schubert's tragically interrupted life with his full awareness that his time on earth was limited. A case has been made for how this influenced his song output but we cannot add to that argument.  All we can say is that we found a wide range of emotion in the chosen songs and that Mr. Padmore colored them with subtlety and communicated a depth of feeling.  And, for us, that is what lieder singing is all about.

A case was also made that Schubert's late songs give less melody to the vocal line.  Frankly, if modern composers paid half as much attention to a melodic vocal line we might enjoy contemporary music considerably more. The melodies are swirling around in our head even now. Some credit must go to the poets he chose to set--Johann Gabriel Seidl, Karl Gottfried von Leitner, Ludwig Rellstab, and, of course, Heinrich Heine.

Taking a closer look at our personal favorites, Rellstab's "In der Ferne" employed a dactyl meter in short punchy phrases that rhymed throughout, lending an impressive unity to the song, emphasized by Schubert's rhythmic setting. Rellstab's "Aufenthalt" followed the dactyl unit with a final stressed syllable, giving the song an insistent and propulsive feeling that echoed the rushing stream, the falling tears, and the beating heart.  In his "Herbst", the rhythm of the piano reminded one of "Gretchen am Spinnrade".  We are not suggesting that these songs sounded alike. Mr. Padmore made each song his own.

Von Leitner's poetry is different altogether and Schubert responded to it differently. In "Der Winterabend", so appropriate for last night, von Leitner wrote about the moonlight slipping lightly into his solitary room, spinning and weaving a shimmering veil ("schimmerndes Schleiertuch"); Shubert's music, as interpreted by Mr. Padmore, similarly spun and wove a shimmering veil over the audience.  We were transfixed!

In his "Des Fischers Liebesgluck", the piano introduces the strophic barcarolle in a minor key and plays the same theme as an interlude  between each stanza, a theme that once heard can never be forgotten. Mr. Padmore colored it beautifully and negotiated the upward leaps effectively. Strophic songs can become boring but not this one!

In Schubert's setting of Heine's "Die Stadt", the composer conveys both breeze and moisture by some kind of compositional legerdemain and the two artists ensured that we felt both. This was tonal painting at its apex!

The program ended with a setting of Seidl's cheerfully charming "Die Taubenpost".

The first half of the concert belonged to Jonathan Biss alone as he performed Schubert's Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959 which was published posthumously. Mr. Biss' fingers literally flew over the keys in virtuosic splendor. It's always impressive when a superstar of the piano can also perform equally well as a collaborative pianist.

(c) meche kroop

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