Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida, Wigmore Hall, review: a heavenly climax to a wonderful festival of music

·3-min read
Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall
Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

Here was manna from heaven: I would gladly take the knee to the BBC and the Wigmore Hall in gratitude for their magnificent curation of this wonderful series of live recitals that has done so much to keep classical music lovers happy and hopeful over the past four weeks. A performance of Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, given by the tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Mitsuko Uchida, has brought this festival to an unforgettable climax.

Lunchtime on a boiling hot summer’s day may not seem like the ideal environment for Winterreise’s bleakness, but in a brief spoken introduction Padmore reminded us of Brecht’s lapidary poem of 1939; “In the dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”

Taking this as his cue, Padmore led us on a journey though human emotions in extremis – remorse, regret and yearning giving way to grief and rage before reaching a sort of wisdom in a clear-eyed despair at the ground zero of existence, where life simply goes meaninglessly on and on, like the mechanical hurdy-gurdy of the final song, like the narrator’s endless journey beyond heartbreak to oblivion.

Although Padmore is now nearly 60, his tenor retains a slender, reedy sweetness which develops a very slight, not unpleasant tremble under pressure. He is the most seriously and selflessly musical of singers, and I was awed in following the German texts to register how immaculate and internalised was his honouring of every word of the text and how delicate his inflection of every syllable.

How intensely he feels the narrator’s pain: what agony and anger he squeezes out of a simple line such as “Da ist meiner Liebsten Haus” (“There is my beloved’s house”); how poignantly he evokes his tears melting in the snow in “Wasserflut” (Flood); and how desolate is his sense of doom when he sees signposts leading to a road “die noch keiner ging zurück” (“from which nobody has ever returned”).

Yet this was not an occasion in which the singer dominated: the piano became as insistently expressive as the voice.

Mitsuko Uchida has made much of her high reputation through her reading of Schubert’s sonatas, but there have been moments, over the years, when I have found her approach almost too refined, too meticulous, too intellectual, with a tendency to an obsessive perfectionism that gets in the way of simple lyricism. Not here: from the stealthy introduction to the opening song “Gute Nacht”, she cut to the essence in playing of ravishing clarity and sharply dramatic detail. Through the keyboard, one sensed the barking of the dogs in “Im Dorfe” (“In the village”); the weary plod in “Das Wirtshaus” (The Inn), and the rustiness of the spectral organ-grinder’s relentless hurdy-gurdy and its invitation to the abyss.

Padmore and Uchida have explored this cycle before, in a series of concerts four years ago: their rapport here seemed profound, a rare meeting of two great musical minds.


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