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Review: Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis at Birmingham Town Hall

Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis perform as one. The only centrestage egos here are those of the composers.

Tenor Mark Padmore

The partnership between tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis should serve as a role-model for every young musician aspiring to solo performance.

They walk on stage relaxed and confident, their acknowledgements to the audience are unanimous, measured and genuinely courteous, their empathy as the music proceeds is indissoluble. They perform as one. The only centrestage egos here are those of the composers.

And what composers they were on Sunday afternoon: Beethoven bringing the world's first song-cycle, Schubert bringing his own final one (though purists might quibble that Schwanengesang, cobbled together from more than one poetic source, might not qualify as such -- I'm in two minds).

Beethoven's ineffable An die ferne Geliebte was preceded by other songs from this composer yearning for the perfect love. The Town Hall Steinway sounded arrestingly bright as Lewis launched into the first of the afternoon's many preludes before the soloist's entry -- through each of which, and in the postludes, too, Padmore's attentive and communicative body-language was a revelation in itself (those with heads immersed in the texts in the admittedly excellent programme-book missed so much of this crucial element in song-recitals).

International pianist Paul Lewis

Lewis gave us plenty of pianistic gems along the way, and Padmore moved effortlessly between ranges, his headnotes miraculously appearing out of nowhere, and their An die ferne Geliebte itself flowed with such natural spontaneity, drawing us into this probably doomed declaration of love.

And love lost was the connecting thread in the Schubert. Padmore and Lewis brought both joyful innocence and gaunt, numbed despair to this performance, building an atmosphere of drama, suspense and collapse.

If one highlight has to be selected, that has to be the setting of Rellstab's Abschied, an affectionate farewell to the town the lover has held so dear, Padmore's body-language and facial expressions discreetly ironic, Lewis's pianism in Schubert's constantly patterning textures spectacular in its stamina.

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