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 Recording of the Week  Winterreise from Padmore and Lewis

Widely regarded as one of the greatest song cycles ever composed, Schubert’s Winterreise is also one of the most recorded (most often by baritones, but frequently by tenors and occasionally a female voice). Schubert set Winterreise on a cycle of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller, but it is not just a collection of songs upon a single theme but is in effect one single dramatic monologue, lasting up to an hour in performance, which takes the listener on a journey to the very depths of the human emotions.

Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis
Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis

For the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying a new recording by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis, which is finally released next Monday. Although on paper the combination of Padmore and Lewis in this repertoire sounds fantastic, before hearing it I did have some doubts and worries as to how it might work. Sometimes when a first class singer and an established solo pianist work together their two personalities are too strong and you can hear them pulling in different directions. A safer bet is generally a specialist lieder accompanist like Graham Johnson or Julius Drake who would be prepared to temper their own musical instincts if they conflicted with those of the singer. In the case of Padmore and Lewis there is no need to worry, as they are in near-perfect agreement throughout, with every subtle nuance of phrasing or dynamic matched by the other. And this cycle benefits hugely by having a pianist of Paul Lewis’s calibre, with his natural affinity with Schubert. His piano playing throughout this disc is nothing short of exceptional you sense it is a real partnership that Padmore and him have formed.

My other slight worry before hearing this disc was that it would be too beautiful. Regular readers of this column will already know that I prise beauty in music very highly, and Mark Padmore’s voice is innately beautiful, but these songs are often dark and tormented and so could he really plunge to the emotional depths that these songs require? Well, yes he can, and very effectively too. True, it is probably the most beautifully sung (and played) performance you will hear, but it is no less emotionally charged as a result. Everything sounds so sincerely felt, and crucially they get the atmosphere of the different songs right, whether it is fear, resignation, loneliness or countless other emotions. It is not at all easy to do this and a credit as much to Paul Lewis as it is to Mark Padmore that they achieve this so successfully throughout.

In summary, this is music-making of the absolute highest order, and should appeal to those with several versions of this cycle already as well as those who are new to this wonderful music. I’ve put a link to the whole of the sixth song ‘Wasserflut’ below for you to listen to, which I think illustrates pretty well all the points made above. Enjoy!

Schubert: Winterreise D911

Mark Padmore (tenor) & Paul Lewis (piano)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC