Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis at St George’s Bristol

Elizabeth Davis enjoys an evening of stormy weather – indoors and out

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Mark PadmoreThe wind was howling and the clouds furiously black as I set off for Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis’s concert at St George’s Bristol, last Friday. On the programme was Schubert’s Schwanengesang and Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte: an evening of tempestuous Romanticism against a backdrop of melodramatic weather.

Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis have recorded Schubert’s song cycle Schwanengesang, along with the composer's Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, on Harmonia Mundi – all of which have been showered with praise and accolades. But the concert began with a couple of aperitifs, Beethoven’s songs Mailied and Neue Liebe neues Leben – delightful miniatures exploring first the joy and then the bafflement of love. With the third song, Abendlied unterm Gestirnten Himmel, we moved into more spiritual territory with a song that told of the soul’s yearning to be with God. Padmore is a peerless communicator and, combined with Lewis’s detail and clarity, each sentiment felt as fresh as the mountain brooks so often mentioned in the texts.

Their performance of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte revelled in the oxymoronic pleasure/pain of the singer’s position – he’s sad to be away from his beloved but the pain is a sweet one because it’s temporary and only serves to heighten the anticipation of their reunion. Supporting the delicate expressions of pain was an underlying robustness – the singer, Padmore and Lewis were suggesting, would be fine.

Which is probably more than can be said for the protagonist in Schubert’s Schwanengesang. The agony and terror of these songs (which weren't originally written as a cycle by Schubert) came across vividly – especially in the poignant songs of unfulfilled longing ‘Fruhlingssehnsucht’, lost love ‘In der Ferne’ and the mental anguish of ‘Der Doppelgänger’. But with the final song ‘Die Taubenpost’ we returned to the sweet sorrow of the Beethoven songs, and the clouds as we emerged from St George’s seemed less black.

The perfect way to spend a stormy summer’s evening – as the man next to me whispered to his friend ‘That was a real treat’.

Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis are performing the same programme of songs by Beethoven and Schubert's 'Schwanengesang' at Wigmore Hall on 12 & 14 June.

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