|Padmore, right, and Lewis: Letting Schubert be Schubert.|
British tenor Mark Padmore makes his Prague debut this week in style: As a featured soloist in Prague Spring, giving a recital with his favorite accompanist, pianist Paul Lewis. The duo have won critical acclaim for their recent recordings of Schubert lieder, including a Gramophone Award for Best Solo Vocal for their 2009 release Winterreise. On Friday night at the Rudolfinum, they will be performing Schubertʼs Schwanengesang cycle along with a challenging set of Beethoven songs, including the An die ferne Geliebte cycle. Still a rising star at the age of 52, Padmore graciously agreed to an e-mail interview about his current repertoire and career plans.
Beethoven isnʼt typically thought of for his songs. What drew you to that work?
I love An die fern Geliebte. I think it is one of the greatest song cycles and hugely influential, particularly for Schumann. The poetry is perhaps not of the highest quality, but it is really great Beethoven.
What have you and Paul Lewis tried to do with the Schubert song cycles?
We both try to get out of the way. Really, it is Schubert that you should be listening to, not Padmore and Lewis. The idea is to take you beyond or past the personalities, frailties and ego of the performers, and communicate something of how the composer felt and thought. That is really interesting – much more interesting than either of us.
You started out studying piano and clarinet. When and why did you decide to focus on singing?
I decided that I didnʼt want to be a member of an orchestra when I was about 17. I had always enjoyed singing, so I began to concentrate on that. Playing clarinet and piano had made my sight-reading pretty good, so although I didnʼt have a particularly strong voice, I was able to be a good member of a choir. I didnʼt really develop a solo career until I was 30.
You first made a name as a soloist in early music, and then 20th-century music. Now youʼre in between, so to speak, with the classical and Romantic repertoire. What attracted you to that period?
Above all I love the music of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Janáček and Britten. Fortunately, they all wrote music I can perform, particularly Bach, Schubert and Britten. In the end, it is the thrill of communicating with an audience that keeps me singing. I love trying to let an audience share my experience with some of the greatest music ever written.
Do you have plans to explore other periods and/or composers?
I hope I never lose the urge to explore new repertoire. There are always new things to see, read and hear, just as there are always new things to find in the great works of art. How could anyone think that they understand Bachʼs St. Matthewʼs Passion or Shakespeareʼs King Lear or Picassoʼs Guernica – they are beyond comprehension. But we can and must approach these masterpieces to learn from them.
You are a veteran of period ensembles and the opera stage, but your schedule is almost exclusively recitals and soloist appearances now. Whatʼs kept you there?
The great thing about recitals is that you create the whole world of the songs with just two people – the singer and the pianist. If the two of you are trying to do the same thing, it is possible to create a really powerful effect. In the opera house, too often one or more of the elements donʼt gel. Either the conductor or the director is not very good, or the chorus doesnʼt want to act, or the other soloists are egomaniacs. It is very hard for everything to work together.
Do you see yourself going back to the opera stage at some point?
I am looking forward very much to singing Captain Vere in Billy Budd at Glyndebourne next summer. I love being on stage, but I also donʼt enjoy being away from my family for weeks at a time. So my opera appearances will be limited.
What do you hope that the audience in Prague takes away from your concert?
I really hope that the audience can be delighted by the genius of Beethoven and Schubert. The music is joyful and melancholy and moving and terrifying. I hope that the excitement that Paul and I feel in performing this comes across to the audience.
For more on Mark Padmore: www.markpadmore.com