Donning his walking boots for a second journey through the icy landscape of Schubert’s Winterreise, British tenor Mark Padmore is in good company. Most recently both Ian Bostridge and Florian Boesch have revisited the piece, and Fischer-Dieskau famously recorded it no fewer than seven times. These second recordings are a fascinating sub-genre, opening up the space between first thoughts and late reflections, revealing vocal changes as well as freeing up artists to take greater (or at least different) risks, safe in the knowledge that they’ve already set down their marker.
Padmore’s new recording is no exception. The comparison here is with his 2009 recording (also on Harmonia Mundi) with Paul Lewis – an award-winning account whose warmth and humanity, as well as its cherished care of text, puts it up among the very best. Nearly a decade on and much has changed. Paul Lewis and his modern concert grand have been traded for the more florid Kristian Bezuidenhout and a fortepiano. The contrast is marked; so much brighter is the latter’s tone that, set alongside one another, songs feel as though in a higher key, even though pitch remains the same. The instrument’s expressive range comes into its own in the muted, dappled light it brings to Der Lindenbaum, but coupled with Padmore’s rangier, more sinewy tone sometimes makes for a rather brittle effect.
There are audible signs of wear in Padmore’s voice, especially at the top, and expressive mannerisms have fossilised into something close to affectation, trading tonal beauty for rhetorical emphasis and distortion. This new wanderer is still more bitterly angry, his grievances bleached into numbed acceptance in Einsamkeit and Der Leiermann, but roused in a ferocious arc of musical rage sustained through Auf dem Flusse and Ruckblick.
Craggy and unyielding, refusing to warm into beauty, this is a recording that’s hard to love. But there’s a boldness to it, a refusal to apologise for this unlikeable hero, that gives it a dramatic appeal. Perhaps an account better suited to concert hall than living room?