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Robert Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 24 – Dichterliebe, Op. 48
Franz Paul Lachner: Sängerfahrt, Op. 33 (excerpts)

Mark Padmore (tenor), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano)
Recorded at Air Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London (June 2010) – 68’53
harmonia mundi HMU 907521 – Booklet in English, French, German

Kristian Bezuidenhout makes this recording a stronger contender in the current discography than Mark Padmore's recent Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, which were marred by the curiously indifferent playing of pianist Paul Lewis. Bezuidenhout is more faithful to the scores and is not afraid to exaggerate dynamics and articulations. The 1837 Dutch fortepiano he plays on has a wonderful sound, and Bezuidenhout is wonderfully adept at coaxing some gorgeous lyrical, sustained passages from the instrument, no mean feat. He and Padmore are also consistently in sync and imbue many of the songs with clever and touching moments of rubato, some quite extreme, that always convince thanks to the perfection of the performer's ensemble work.

Padmore's lovely tenor voice is on fine display throughout. He occasionally sounds uncomfortable in the low register, which makes the opening of "Ich grolle nicht" less arresting than it should be. His overemphasized diction here doesn't help matters, either, but this is a small valley in a disc full of several high peaks. The interaction between singer and keyboard in "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube" is great fun, as is Bezuidenhout's deliciously spiky accompaniment in "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen", above which slithers his right hand and Padmore's unctuously delivered narrative. In all, this is a very strong Dichterliebe if one desires it from a tenor voice. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Matthias Goerne, and Thomas Quasthoff deliver more power in the cycle, a simple inevitability given their deeper Fächer.

There are no such problems in the Heine Liederkreis. The gently brushed phrases from keyboard and voice that open "Berg' und Burgen schau’n herunter" makes one wish the strophes continued infinitely. Padmore sings beautifully sotto voce and this is one of many instances where the velvety color that Bezuidenhout gets from the fortepiano is almost unbelievable. "Lieb' Liebchen" finds Padmore singing with a Peter Quint-esque eeriness, making this morbid bonbon deliciously creepy.

While not all of the Lachner settings stand up to greatest lieder, there are some wonderful surprises. "Die Meerfrau" is too derivative of Schubert's "Erlkönig" and doesn't reach the terrifying climax of that setting, but "Ein Traumbild" is a delightful monodrama, masterfully performed, and the harmonic surprises of "Die einsame Träne" are clearly relished by the duo. In the second stanza, Padmore creates a magical crescendo, and throughout the set he is undeniably musical, giving these lesser-known songs impressive advocacy.

This disc is a welcome addition to the catalogue. Padmore has found a perfectly sympathetic partner in Bezuidenhout, and one wishes that the two earlier Schubert discs had been recorded by this duo (and on fortepiano). Hopefully if harmonia mundi has a Schwanengesang in the works, it will be from these performers.

Marcus Karl Maroney




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