The 70th Cheltenham Music Festival brought a song-recital from tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Huw Watkins which will live long in the memory as a great example of this most intimate and personal art.
In a first half devoted entirely to British music we began with three of Britten's Purcell realisations, Padmore's mellow well-phrased tones imparting an almost Dido and Aeneas-like intensity, Watkins sympathetic both to his soloist and to Britten's imaginative yet always appropriate piano-writing.
Huw Watkins own Four Sonnets, here receiving their premiere, displayed a wide range of piano textures, moods swinging between eerie melancholy and angular exultation in these settings of Trumbull Stickney, James Thomson, Elizabeth Bishop and John Clare, the last -named's "How can I forget" filled with a sorrow which neverthless dances.
The Heart's Assurance, that angry song-cycle of loss and bereavement, in keeping with this year's special Great War centenary, was immediately recognisable as Tippett, keyboard-writing detailed, Padmore's vocal delivery declamatory and eventually snarling in sad despair.
We were to hear more despair in the concluding Schumann Dichterliebe, Padmore's musical copies now discarded so that he could concentrate on the amazing facial and manual body-language he is so adept at using to enhance communication. This was such a subtle, psychological performance, the singer fearless in taking the high alternatives in certain climactic phrases, imitating a baritone for "Im Rhein", ruthlessly freezing the audience with his numbed madman eyes, and listening to Watkins' grateful renderings of Schumann's piano-interludes with well-observed responsiveness.
Listeners to the future BBC Radio 3 relay will of course miss such a dimension. But so did those present in the elegant Pump Room who kept their heads resolutely in the texts at all times, and for those I have little sympathy.