Mark Padmore at Wigmore Hall

We began with the court odes and theatre songs of Henry Purcell,
interspersed with instrumental interludes from King Arthur,
Abdelazar and The Fairy Queen. The torment and fear of
‘the black dismal dungeon of despair’ were powerfully evoked but
gradually rejection and loss gave way to intimations of hope; that the pure
sweetness of the ‘songsters of the sky’ and the refreshing beauty
of ‘the blooming Spring’ might prove as lasting and transforming as
love itself, until ‘Thus the Gloomy World at Last Began to

Both Handel and Purcell employed an inventive palette of sound to
affectingly paint the words, and Padmore effortlessly brought these exquisite
colours to our attention — but he never once destroyed the legato line, or focused on an individual word at the expense of the story-telling. This was
singing of an astonishing eloquence.

In ‘What Shall I Do?’ from Dioclesian, Padmore
demonstrated an innate appreciation of how the da capo form perfectly
captures the antithesis between resignation and determination, as the
despairing lover converts lonely rejection to a glorious transfiguration in
death. The poignant optimism of the repeated lines, ‘I will love more
than man e’er lov’d before me;/ Gaze on her all the day, and melt
all the night’, was underscored by a gentle frisson on
‘melt’, deftly conveying both the magnitude of emotion and erotic
intensity. Ever aware of the theatrical origins of these songs, Padmore drew
the audience into his emotional tussles, here lightening and brightening his
voice for the final avowal to ‘preserve our delight’, ensuring that
we shared his cares and convictions.

After the interval, we progressed from the anxious questioning of
‘Where are These Brethren … Remorse, Confusion, Horror,
Fear’, from Handel’s Joseph and his Brethren, towards the
consoling comforts of Elysian realms. Padmore coupled heartfelt imploring with
blessed serenity in ‘Descend, Kind Pity’ (Theodora),
leading us ultimately to the ‘azure plain’ in ‘Waft Her,
Angels’ (Jephtha). This is repertoire in which he excels, but
while his mastery and relaxation were ever evident, there was not a single
moment when Padmore was not alert to the musical and dramatic nuances, seeking
a true union between musical and verbal expression.

The English Consort, led by Nadia Zwiener, brought an additional layer of
expressive depth to these interpretations, exploiting the contrasts between
fast and slow, between duple and triple rhythms, and achieving convincing
transitions between the diverse sections of Purcell’s instrumental
overtures and symphonies; throughout there was a shared and sustained sense of
‘the whole’. This was understated but efficient leadership by
Zwiener. She drew crisp, unfussy articulation from her players —
particularly in Handel’s Italianate ‘Sharp Violins Proclaim’
from the Song for St Cecilia’s Day; but equally, the strings
subtly pointed Purcell’s pungent dissonances, conveying at times urgency,
then repose, and skilfully underpinning the ambiguous tension between cruelty
and pleasure latent in the texts. And, there was some energetic, flamboyant
playing from trumpeter Mark Bennett, particularly in the trumpet overture to
Purcell’s The Indian Queen.

Throughout this outstanding performance, there was a genuine sense of
partnership between soloist and instrumentalists, evidence of a shared vision
and mutual delight.

Claire Seymour

image_description=Mark Padmore [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
product_title=Mark Padmore at Wigmore Hall
product_by=Mark Padmore, tenor; Mark Bennett, trumpet. The English Concert. Nadia Zwiener, leader. Thursday 26th November, 2009. Wigmore Hall, London.
product_id=Above: Mark Padmore [Photo by Marco Borggreve]