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Mark Padmore [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
30 Nov 2009

Mark Padmore at Wigmore Hall

Mark Padmore and The English Concert took us on a journey from the dark depths of melancholy to the ethereal transcendence of joy, in a display of consummate artistry at the Wigmore Hall.

Mark Padmore at Wigmore Hall

Mark Padmore, tenor; Mark Bennett, trumpet. The English Concert. Nadia Zwiener, leader. Thursday 26th November, 2009. Wigmore Hall, London.

Above: Mark Padmore [Photo by Marco Borggreve]


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 Shine’.

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

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