Padmore and Uchida perform Schubert’s “Schwanengesang”

This is a glorious disc: Padmore and Uchida deliver a stunning Schwanengesamg

Padmore and Uchida perform Schubert’s “Schwanengesang”

This is a glorious disc - recorded in London’s iconic Wigmore Hall in May 2022, it combines two magnificent song-cycles by Beethoven and Schubert.

Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), Op. 98 of 1816 sets poems by Alois Jeitteles - this is a short cycle but one of great significant, not least in the final song’s reminiscence of material from the first. The songs are presented in a key order lined by thirds (E flat, G, A flat x2, C, E flat); set against this is a progressive acceleration of tempo over the first five songs.

Padmore’s liquid legato in the first song, “Auf dem Hügel sitz  ich spähend” (I sit on the hill, gazing) in tandem with Uchida’s ever-sensitive playing sets the scene beautifully; the sheer dlelicacy of the following “Wo die Berge so blau” (Where the blue mountains) sits in perfect complement, its blossoming a thing of beauty. After the light tread of the third

To have two such great musicians as interpreters is luxury indeed. Padmore’s light but focused tenor is perfect for the expfression of the poems’ Romantic sensiblities, and Uchida is probably the perfect partner. Both musicians have strong identities, but they complement each other so well in the service of these two composers.

Uchida’s treble in the fourth song is the stuff of dreams; it is Beethoven”s reaction to the poet’s scene paintig (a “cheerful flight of birds”). The piano shines again in the fifth song“Es kehret der Maien” (May returns; and how fluent is Uchida here!), before the final “Nimm sie hin, denn, diese Lieder” (Accept, then, these songs), here a hymn of beauty, bringing a satisfying sense of conclusion.

Mark Padmore, photo © Marco Borggreve

The main element of thie disc is Schubert’s Schwanengesang, a set of songs published posthumously as a cycle byViennese pblisher Tobias Haslinger. The various poetms (by Rellstab, Heine and Seidl) are linked by an unattainable other and so make the perfect complement to the Beethoven.

The piano  part in Schubert’s cycle is notoriously difficult, not that one would believe it with Uchida’s fleuncy. The way Padmore reacts to the text of the first song, “Liebesbotschaft,” sets the tone of intimacy for the entire cycle. But the nervous intensity of Uchida’s way with the anacruses of “Siegers Ahnung” (Warrior”s foreboding) gives the music a sense of unrest; Padmore’s response to the changing moods of the text in this songare remarkable; we hear a similar nervous, tensile energy in “Aufenthalt” (Resting place). But how effective the gestures and silences of “In der Ferne” (Far away) ...

This is a performance of great beauty - the fluency of “Frühlingssehnsucht,” the poignancy of  the famous “Ständchen,” the beautifully calibrated forward movement of  “Abschied”; and nothing can really prepare one for the muscularity of Padmore and Uchida’s “Der Atlas,” which arrives like an unstoppable tornado. And how great the contrast of that to the devastating “Ihr Bild”. It is the fantastical, near-hallucinogenic quality of “Die Stadt” that absolutely stops one in one’s tracks, though - unforgettable.

The sheer power of the penultimate “Der Doppelgänger” is shattering; we desperately need - and get - the echt-Schubertian sweetness of “Die Taubenpost” to close (and how perfect are Uchida”s treble descents here!).

Here at Classical Explorer, we have covered Schwanengesang before (Michael Gees and Amdreas Steier), and this performance would sit nicely next to it on a collector”s shelf. Padmore and Uchida are lighter, timbrally (and of course there is the keyboard instrument difference), but interpretatively they deliver a stunning experience.