Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
She never told her love, Hob.XXVIa:34 [3:22]
Hark! what I tell to thee (The Spirit Song), Hob.XXVIa:41 [5:07]
Antwort auf die Frage eines Mädchens, Hob.XXVIa:46 [3:47]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Das Veilchen, K.476 [2:30]
Abendempfindung, K.523 [4:42]
Kantate: Die ihr des unermesslichen Weltalls, K.619 [6:41]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Mailied, Op.52 No.4 [2:10]
Neue Liebe, neues Leben, Op.75 No. 2 [2:55]
Aus Goethes Faust, Op.75 No.3 [2:26]
Adelaide, Op.46 [5:42]
Selbstgespräch, WoO 114 [3:19]
Resignation, WoO 149 [3:11]
An die Hoffnung, Op.94 [5:48]
An die ferne Geliebte, Op.98 [13:20]
Abendlied unter'm gestirnten Himmel, WoO 150 [5:20]
Mark Padmore (tenor); Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano)
rec. 2014, The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, Cobham, Surrey
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907611 [70:24]
I've never been a great fan of the fortepiano but then I'd never heard a full disc by Kristian Bezuidenhout before this one.  He makes his 1820 Rosenberger instrument sing in much the way that a more modern piano would do. Its slightly metallic clang is used to colour and enlighten the music in a way that I really hadn't expected.  The opening sequence of chords that prefaces the voice in She never told her love, is beautifully expressive and acts as a subtle prelude to Padmore's contribution of the text. The fortepiano seems to stalk the ground creepily in the introduction to Hark! what I tell to thee.  Antwort auf die frage then sounds bright as a button, sunnily optimistic but also very intimate, evoking the chamber world of domestic performance that Haydn would surely have had in mind when he wrote it.  In fact, I consistently rated Bezuidenhout's contribution more than I did Padmore's as I listened to this disc.  At times he sounded rather mannered and self-conscious, such as his rather absurd stress on "grief" in She never told her love, and rather exaggeratedly Gothic in Hark! what I tell to thee.  In Antwort auf die Frage, however, he does manage to find a tone of more restrained purity. He carries that on into Mozart's Veilchen, which seems to ooze inner domesticity before finding the right mixture of solemnity and intimacy for the great Abendempfindung, which Bezuidenhout backs with playing of breadth and responsiveness.

As for the Beethoven songs, Mailied is better played than sung, more bliss in Bezuidenhout's piano line than in Padmore's voice, though in both Neue Liebe and Selbstgespräch there is a pleasing sense of the pulse quickening. The Flea Song from Faust is well characterised, and gives way to a beautifully restrained Adelaide and a pleasingly tentative Resignation. O Hoffnung is well done, for all that it sounds a little uneven.

I could see what Padmore was trying to do with An die ferne Geliebte - namely to stress the importance of the text through emphasising key words and shading of his voice - but I didn't really buy it. Too often he sounded to me as though he was trying very hard but not quite catching something in the music. True, by my personal prejudice I prefer a baritone in this repertoire, and nothing I've heard in the last few years can hold a candle to Christian Gerhaher in this cycle, Padmore's light tone came across as breathy and a little too fragile at times, even a little stretched in Es kehret der Maien. Again, it was Bezuidenhout who impressed me most, with a beautifully responsive accompaniment that really came into its own in the introduction to the final song, and enervated the excitable final bars. Bezuidenhout's fortepiano sounds for all the world like a harp at the very opening of the Abendlied that ends the disc. Its beautiful, serenade-like quality makes it a great choice for a final track. Padmore finds his groove here, too, transcendent and thoughtful for the opening verses but then rising to a peak of triumph for the "transfigured countenance" of the song's second half. The song's meditation on the soul's final journey made me finish by wondering if it was, perhaps, Beethoven's greatest song.

I began listening to this disc thinking that the acoustic of the Menuin Hall suited this recording perfectly. While there is space to breathe, however, I found the echo more intrusive and distorting as the recording wore on.

The booklet contains full texts and translations, but its layout is rather irritating, as space considerations mean that the German text and its English translation are often on different pages. This makes following the words a bit of a chore at times.

Simon Thompson

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