The central character in Die Winterreise is the wintry landscape which a lovelorn young man traverses in increasing madness until he reaches oblivion.
In this epic song-cycle Schubert provides finely-etched opportunities for local colour – a crow, the dogs growling in the sleeping village, the out-of-reach warmth of an inn, the mysterious hurdy-gurdy man playing to no-one in the frozen wastes – which give infinite scope to the performers, but also heavy responsibilities of communication of these ideas.
On Monday the Lichfield Festival presented a moving, memorable account of this finest work in the genre from two of our finest young artists: Mark Padmore, a tenor growing in stature and acclaim day-by-day, and Paul Lewis, one of the most thoughtful of pianists, and one with a particular affinity with Schubert. The Lady Chapel, with its natural, unforced acoustic, was packed with rapt listeners.
Padmore’s diction was superb, and his colouring of the various moods and emotions was grippingly persuasive. If there are doubts to be raised, they are to do with the carrying-power of his lowest notes, but this was no problem in this context.
Lewis was probing and revealing in his accompaniments (a strange word in what is actually a strongly-forged partnership between equals), and had the confidence to bring expressive rubato to crucial pianistic episodes – not least those where Schubert’s keening little three-note motif which unifies the whole score is uppermost.
Indeed, the partnership between Padmore and Lewis is so strong that they can afford to take risks in articulation of phrasing and in rhythmic ensemble. The result here was one of great spontaneity, and all the more affecting for that.