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Review: Painswick Music Society

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Painswick Music Society continued its 2023 season with a very special concert by the tenor Mark Padmore and accompanist James Ballieu. 

Yet again a concert of the highest quality played to a rapt audience in the church on the afternoon of Saturday 1st April. 

Mark Padmore has long been known as “an exceptionally intelligent and cultivated singer, enjoying equal success in every area of his repertory. His particular hallmark is his sensitive approach to language, a quality that has allowed him to make a name for himself as a lieder recitalist.”

Critics have described him as “singing beautifully, often gorgeously, his tone by turns purring and raw, luxuriant and drily ironic, sensuous and declamatory.

Padmore turns Lieder into precisely coloured captures of emotion.”  

This was all very much to the fore at this performance.  He was appointed CBE in the 2019 Queens’ Birthday Honours List and we were fortunate to be able to host him, sandwiched between his singing tours in Austria and Holland.

The accompanist James Baillieu, described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘in a class of his own’, works with the country’s leading performers, and his partnership with Mark Padmore this afternoon was masterly.

The first half of the programme showcased a series of diverse Schubert Lieder under the title “Songs of the Seasons”, in which singer and pianist worked closely together in a sensitive rendering of German poems, captivating the audience with Padmore’s hallmark lyric singing voice, his responsive enjoyment of the German vowels and articulation of the consonants, all combined with subtle gestures to capture the changing moods of the songs.

The second half was rather different; 20th Century music by Rebecca Clarke and Benjamin Britten, which brought out very different and dramatic aspects in the musicians,  with a more proclamatory heldentenor quality in  Padmore’s voice, and piano accompaniments which wove in and around the song lines. 

I am sure that the songs of Rebecca Clarke were new to most of the audience.  Padmore described her songs as “amongst the best in 20th century repertoire” and enjoying a revival.  They certainly brought out a wide range of skills in both musicians, with dramatic changes of mood.  We revelled in the unfolding of the (English) story lines, so clearly articulated and expressed in the singing.

We are fortunate that Britten, a pianist, composed so much music for his companion, Peter Pears, a tenor.  The song cycle Winter Words is perhaps Britten’s most accomplished, with settings of poems by Thomas Hardy. 

The title is slightly misleading, as only one movement approaches the subject of winter – “At day-close in November”. Padmore felt that the title was chosen to invite comparisons with Schubert’s great cycle, Winterreise (“Winter journey”).  Before embarking on the cycle, we were given some insight into Britten’s skill at weaving unexpected and yet related themes into the music, not least the slowing and reharmonising of the popular Victorian hymn tune “Mount Ephraim”, referred to in the poem “The Choirmaster’s burial”, as the underlay to the song itself, which seemed to have no relationship to the hymn, and yet both combined seamlessly.

This song cycle felt designed for Mark Padmore and James Baillieu.

Their skills shone in an extraordinary exposition to the delight of the audience.  Rather nicely, the theme of the closing song of the cycle “Before life and after” linked back to themes in the Schubert “Songs of the seasons” in the first half of the concert.

The concert concluded with a special encore; the well loved ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’ in an enigmatic setting by Rebecca Clarke.

The season continues at 3.00pm on Saturday 22nd April with the Heath Quartet with quartets by Haydn, Britten and Schubert (Death and the Maiden), and at 7.00pm on Saturday 6th May with La Serenissima, who have twice won the Gramophone Award for “Baroque Instrumental”.  

Further details are published on the website https://painswickmusicsoc.co.uk/2023-season/

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