The British tenor on Beethoven, Britten and Schubert
Mark Padmore is one of the leading tenors of his generation and his recent recording of Schubert’s song cycle Schwanengesang¸ with pianist Paul Lewis, was hailed as ‘a wonderful recording' by our critic Michael Tanner. We spoke to Padmore ahead of a recital of vocal and instrumental chamber works by Beethoven, Schubert and Britten at Bath Mozartfest.
For your programme in Bath you’ll be performing not only with pianist Julius Drake but also the horn player Richard Watkins, in Schubert’s Auf dem Strom. How did you put this programme together?
I particularly like recitals that have an element of chamber music in them as well because I think sometimes just pure song recitals can get a little bit tiring for all concerned. To have a recital which features another instrument is a lot of fun. There are a couple of reasons for music by Beethoven being in there – one of the reasons is that his Horn Sonata is a very good piece but another is that Schubert’s Auf dem Strom was written as a memorial to Beethoven. It was performed in a concert that Schubert put together on the first anniversary of Beethoven’s death, but the poem, by Ludwig Rellstab, had been first sent to Beethoven who thought of setting it but then decided not to. It’s kind of a send-off to Beethoven, it imagines the soul travelling down the river, further and further away from his friends and from being able to hear music in the real world.
How much do you have to adjust your performance when there’s a horn as well as a piano?
Not very much, although you obviously have to balance, as always. But the Schubert song Auf dem Strom, which was one of Schubert’s last works, is beautifully written – the horn element in it is very lyrical and it goes very well with the voice. And of course Britten is a sort of genius in those kinds of pieces – he was writing for horn player Dennis Brain and tenor Peter Pears, both people he knew very well. The Canticle ‘Still falls the rain’ is beautifully written – the horn and the voice don’t come together until the very end, they’re sort of in parallel, with the horn movement commenting on the vocal movement.
Beethoven isn’t widely known as a song composer, why do you think that is?
I think Beethoven wrote a few songs which are absolutely the equal of his great chamber works. An die ferne Geliebte is definitely an incredibly important piece, as well as a very beautiful one, because it influenced many composers afterwards. It was the first real song cycle: the songs are all linked and it was a great influence on Schumann, for example, whose piano piece, the Fantasie in C, is inspired by and quotes from this work. But song wasn’t one of his main areas of interest and there are only 30 minutes worth of really great works that he wrote for voice and piano. But I do believe that An die ferne Geliebte is the equal of the very best chamber music.
Interview by Elizabeth Davis