It was on returning from a tour of the German concentration camps with Yehudi Menuhin, in 1945, that Britten finally realised his long-cherished project of setting to music the spiritual sonnets of John Donne (1572-1631). He succeeded admirably in conveying their skilful blend of passion and intellectual rigour.
Mark Padmore was born in London and grew up in Canterbury. After beginning his musical studies on the clarinet he gained a choral scholarship to King's College, Cambridge and graduated with an honours degree in music. He has established a flourishing career in opera, concert and recital. His performances in Bach's Passions have gained particular notice throughout the world. His disc of Handel arias As Steals the Morn with The English Concert and Andrew Manze won the BBC Music Magazine Vocal Award in April 2008. Future releases for harmonia mundi include Die Winterreise with Paul Lewis.
“Padmore's sound is more beautiful and easily expressive than Pears's ever was, but he never imposes his own personality too forcefully, content to let the natural inflections of the bespoke vocal lines in the Donne cycle follow their own course.” The Guardian, 26th June 2009 ****
“Before life and after is the more consoling conclusion to the Hardy cycle, and Padmore lavishes a palette of tone colour to match or even outshine Pears here. His English diction has an unfussy naturalness, and Vignoles captures the descriptive imagery of the piano parts with their descriptions of the train whistle and the boy’s violin. Padmore’s voice now sounds dark for Purcell, but the three Britten realisations suit it well, and the disc is rounded off by five of Britten’s most attractive folk-song arrangements.” Sunday Times, 5th July 2009 *****
“Padmore is on happier ground with the idiosyncratic Purcell realisations, especially in a gem of an 'Evening Hymn', while the Hardy vignettes of Winter Words bring an ideally subtle sense of atmosphere from both singer and pianist.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2009 ****
“The Holy Sonnets of John Donne were composed in 1945, soon after Britten's visit to German concentration camps, and the stark immediacy of that experience can be heard in the composer's own recordings. Padmore and Roger Vignoles, his warm-toned accompanist, take a more reflective line. ...the core of the cycle is some heartfelt singing in the sixth and most beautiful setting, "Since she whom I loved". The vivid picture-painting of Winter Words helps make it probably Britten's most popular song-cycle with piano. Several of the Thomas Hardy poems evoke a time of innocence now lost, a familiar Britten theme, and the evocative performance by Padmore and Vignoles captures that sense of longing particularly well.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2009
“This declamatory, religious-themed repertoire fits Padmore like a glove, marrying as it does his enduring success as a performer of early sacred music with his newer success as a chamber recitalist...A satisfying recital on every level.” Charlotte Gardner, bbc.co.uk, 21st December 2009