Saturday, 22 May 2010

Mark Padmore sings Lachner Oxford

Once in a car park, I saw a nice car, old, but a performance car nonetheless, a lot like mine. Then up popped the owner, who looked familiar - Mark Padmore!

So it was good to hear him yesterday evening in the intimate surroundings of the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, which seats only 100 people, most of whom know each other as we've grown old together, since we've been coming to the Holywell for decades. That's what makes the Holywell ideal for Lieder. It's intimate, seats rising on three sides, so the small performance platform feels shielded, like it's in a womb. Perfect Liederabend mystique. The idea isn't showy flamboyance but private, personal communication.

Padmore sang Schumann and Franz Lachner, Simon Lepper (he of the hypnotic eyes) on piano, instead of the originally scheduled voice and pianoforte programme.

Franz Lachner? If you know Wagner, you've heard the name before. He was the big man in Munich music, pushed aside abruptly by Wagner and Hans von Bülow, the Young Turks of 1864. Partisan times, but Lachner steered clear of the turmoil.  He outlived Wagner, dying as late as 1890, but by then Wagner had changed music forever. Lachner's music seemed like a relic of the past. 

Yet Lachner represents a strain of music that goes right back to Beethoven.  One of his teachers was Beethoven's student. As a young man, Lachner was close to Schubert . he almost certainly knew the work of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Loewe. Padmore's become interested in Lachner and plans to do a Lachner programme in the near future.

He mentioned coming across Christoph Prégardien's 1999 recording, "Lachner, Krufft, Beethoven: Lieder", with Andreas Staier on pianoforte.  It's the only one available because it would be hard to outclass Prégardien's combination of lithe purity and golden warmth. Because Staier's a brilliant fortepianist, totally at home in this style, it's a wonderful combination.

Padmore sang Lachner's op 33 Sängerfahrt, from the period when Schubert, too, was writing Heine settings. Yet what's striking is how Lachner's songs sound more Beethovenian than Schubert-like. Specifically, I could hear echoes of Beethoven's folk song settings - circular pseudo-dances, perhaps evocations of simple folk instruments translated through the genteel frame of urban, middle class sensibility.  Im Mai  in particular sounds Beethovenian,  nothing like Schumann's Im wunderschönen MaiDie Meerfrau and Das Fischermädchen flow into each other, both with lilting wave-like rhythms.

Ein Traumbild, though, is a nightmare, where a succubus starts to seduce the poet, who's saved by cocks crowing at dawn.   By Heine standards, this is no Allnächtlich in Traume but it suits Lachner who responds to the poem with Erlkönig melodrama. Lachner's no Schubert, but it's good enough.   More attractive, partly because it's perhaps more Lachner's own voice, is Die einsame Träne. A single tear flows down the poet's face,  reminding him of the past. But he's older and wiser now, and the pain is fading. In equilibrium, he can tell the lonely tear, zerfliesse jetzunder auch (go  away like the others). Lovely song, in the intimacy of the Holywell Music Room.

Padmore also sang Schumann: Liederkreis op 24 and Dichterliebe op 48. Lovely to hear, and much welcomed, but written about so often that I won't do so here. Lachner's the "news" item, and Padmore's forthcoming concerts. But tomorrow I'll write about a very special Dichterliebe Padmore sang in Oxford many years ago in a very unusual situation, a memorial for Aung San Suu Kyi's husband, Michael Aris.
 Photo credit : Marco Borggreve

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