Mark Padmore: Schubert's Winterreise

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Tenor Mark Padmore takes on history's greatest--and arguably most difficult--song cycle in this week's Full Rotation: Album of the Week.

Schubert's Winterreise, or “Winter’s Journey,” may be the gloomiest 90 minutes of music ever composed. Many operas have tragic endings, but they are usually relieved somewhere along the way with some lively stage action. Even Mahler incorporates a tuneful march or landler tune to lighten the mood of his pessimistic symphonies. Schubert, on the other hand, goes deep into the story of a rejected lover who leaves town and sets out on a dark, aimless winter’s journey. Over 24 songs, we're told that love is lost, death is imminent, life is bitter and fleeting.

With its layers of emotion and meaning, it’s no surprise that Winterreise has become a favorite of choreographers, stage directors, and even jazz musicians. Tenor Mark Madmore, best known for his work in Baroque music, is bringing the cycle to Lincoln Center this week in a performance interwoven with texts of Samuel Beckett. On a new recording with pianist Paul Lewis, Padmore takes us deep into the troubled soul of Schubert's wanderer.

With his clear, attractive tenor voice, Padmore sensitively captures the macabre imagery of songs like "Auf dem Flusse" (At the River), in which the lover's description of a frozen stream seems to morph into a physical corpse. He is also alive to the range of emotions in the cycle, balancing childlike simplicity (in "Der Lindenbaum") with intense drama (in "Erstarrung"), and closing with a chilling performance of "Der Leiermann."

Just as Padmore leaves no nuance unexamined, Lewis’ sensitive playing provides unpretentious but crucial support throughout.

Album details

Schubert: Winterreise

Mark Padmore, tenor

Paul Lewis, piano

Harmonia Mundi [907484]

Hear Mark Padmore interviewed on WNYC’s Soundcheck Monday, December 7

Buy Winterreise at Archivmusic.com