SCHUBERT: Winterreise – Mark Padmore, tenor/ Paul Lewis, piano – Harmonia mundi 907484, 74:18 *****:
This is one of the better Winter Journeys to come my way recently. Padmore is of course a very versatile artist, and his voice has just the right flavor for these despairing songs, especially in his lower and middle registers, the primary range for this cycle as there are very few high notes that are employed for exquisite effect by the composer when warranted. The sound is excellent with a nice balance between the singer and accompanist Paul Lewis, who has also made quite a stir recently with his highly-acclaimed Beethoven Sonata series on this same label.
I was taken to task recently in another publication because I dared to call into question a certain performance tradition in these songs whereby Schubert’s clearly notated triplets versus dotted eighth and sixteenth rhythms are superimposed on one another and the last note of each played as a triplet rhythm. The most obvious example of this is in the song “Wasserflut” (“Flood”) where unfortunately sirs Padmore and Lewis have opted to perpetuate what in my mind is an aberrant tradition and something that completely destroys the composer’s intentions, who easily could have written a triplet rhythm in both parts had he so desired. But they are not consistent in this; in No. 23 (“Die Nebensonnen”, “The Mock Sons”) at measure seven this same rhythm is present and played the same way as in “Flood”. Yet further along in measure twelve the same example in the same scoring is done properly in exact rhythm, as it is towards the end in measure 28, which leads me to believe that measure eight was poorly done—otherwise nothing makes sense. But the point is that in this song they have chosen rhythmic exactness whereas in the earlier song they did not. I would love to hear the explanation for the choices made here, as Schubert knew what he was doing when he wrote this music.
Mr. Padmore also employs what almost amounts to a Sprechstimme effect in No. 15, “Die Krahe” (“The Crow”) that is a bit off-putting, yet one must admit, effective, as he sings about the crow flying about his head. But this is the reason why I like this release so much; Padmore enters into the desperation of the cycle first and lets the song, expression, and even tonal qualities emulate from that experience. He doesn’t set out to first and foremost sing as beautifully as possible and only then try to let some of the emotion through; this is genuine art song singing at its most effective and stunningly moving. Paul Lewis proves that he can be as indispensable to Schubert songs as to Beethoven sonatas—after this I will have to check out his Schubert sonata discs as well.
Despite my carping about the rhythms, the integrity of the musicianship and effortless communicability make this perhaps the best modern tenor version of these songs to come along in a number of years.
— Steven Ritter