on 23 May 2012
Mark Padmore is the melancholic voice of today. His Schubert cycles provided particularly rueful and broken readings of already fragmentary narratives. And he has brought the same intensity to his performances as the evangelists in Bach's Passions, in concert, on stage and on record. It is to those strengths, or rather his strength at portraying weakness and woe, that this latest disc plays.
Britten's song cycles fit Padmore's poetic insights well. There's a weary beauty to his sound, which the Britten Sinfonia answers in refined terms. Throughout the opening of the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, they create an eerie mixture of stasis and silence, while Padmore's flared vowels and lively consonants bring the text to life. Never languishing, chasing Stephen Bell's nimble calls through the 'Hymn', this is a spirited but spiritual reading of Britten's nocturnal postcards.
As the composer retreats further into the dark with his Nocturne, Padmore follows softly after. Floating lines, as if they might break, his incantations become hypnotic, perched on top of rocking orchestral murmurs. The whispered urgency of 'What is more gentle than a wind in summer?' recalls Peter Quint, with the obbligato woodwind adding strange acidic wit. Despite considerable competition - including Pears, Langridge and Bostridge, to name but three - Padmore's plangent tones and acute understanding of the text provide a modern match.
But what enlivens Britten does not translate to Finzi's Dies natalis. The work may share Britten's harmonic intensity, but the calm and sanguinity of Traherne's poetry places it on a more heavenly plane. The Britten Sinfonia labours 'The Rapture' and Padmore's voice feels too rich for Finzi's 'spotless and pure' cycle. Slower and more syrupy than Wilfred Brown's (to date) peerless reading of this muted marvel, Finzi is overwhelmed by Britten's company. No singer could fully bridge the gap between the innocence of Dies natalis and Britten's post-Freudian experience. But even if Finzi requires a more rational approach, the twisted melancholy of Britten's song cycles finds an insightful mouthpiece in Padmore.
[Britten - 5 Stars / Finzi - 3 Stars]
on 20 January 2015
Some months ago, CD Review on BBC 3 reviewed all recordings of the Serenade, and gave the prize to Pregardien's BIS recording. I was so happy that the Brits had gotten past their indulgence of second-rate singers in this piece. Or if not second-rate, less than adequate. Bostridge over-sings; I can't bear it, or much of his work; Aynsley, a singer I love, does not seem really happy in the Serenade; Padmore, here, is more like Bostridge; it is as if he is trying too hard. There are others, notably Pears with Tuckwell, which is really Desert Island material, particularly 'To Sleep'. The cycle makes you realize how tailored it is to a particular voice, and Pears does get more out of the sonnet than anyone; it is an extraordinary performance which takes you where great music is supposed to. Pregardien is likewise wonderful, though his English does let him down once or twice, but not his voice; he doesn't over-interpret, while singing through the wide range all equally, unlike almost any others. He has one voice, not three. So, buy Pears and Pregardien. I think we can rest the Serenade then for a bit.