Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.



28 Jun 2020

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Winterreise, Mark Padmore (tenor), Mitsuko Uchida (piano) - Wigmore Hall, London

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Mitsuko Uchida and Mark Padmore

Photo courtesy of Wigmore Hall


For, this series of 20 lunchtime recitals, live streamed via the Wigmore Hall website and broadcast on BBC Radio 3, has been very much more than a ‘good thing’: the performances have not ‘just’ been an opportunity to enjoy remarkable music and musicianship, technical mastery and expressive commitment, but also astonishingly, though not surprisingly, fulfilling and uplifting, and perhaps ground-breaking too.

And, as Artistic Director, John Gilhooly, reassures us, although Wigmore Hall will fall silent for a few months - to allow a clearer picture to emerge as to how long this crisis will continue for live performance, and for musicians, and decisions about the autumn and winter programmes can be taken - the doors of Wigmore Hall will re-open and welcome audiences back for live performances.

This recital by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Mitsuko Uchida was, though, the final concert in this wonderful series, so it was ‘an end’ of sorts. Schubert’s Winterreise is also a journey towards an ‘end’ - rest, death, the abyss, perhaps renewal. Initially, though any opportunity to hear these two musicians perform Schubert’s song-cycle is always to be grasped, I wondered if the programming was not a little too bleak: hope rather despair, resurrection rather than oblivion, is what we long for and need. Moreover, listening at mid-day at the peak of a mini midsummer heatwave didn’t seem the most helpful circumstances in which to empathise with the chilling introspection of the traveller’s winter journey across the icy landscape, into his own psyche and beyond into nothingness.

But, I need not have feared. The soft and surreptitious tread of the piano at the start of ‘Gute Nacht’ - Uchida somehow managed to convey the slightest of propulsive swellings through the first two bars of piano breathing - was both an ending and a beginning: a gentle farewell to the present and the commencement of a journey through an emotional terrain, ever more extreme. That’s not to suggest that there was anything overly mannered about Padmore’s and Uchida’s approach. Quite the opposite. And, it was that very clarity and directness, judgement and sensitivity, that made their performance so powerful, almost overwhelmingly so, given the context. The empty seats in the Hall, the wanderer’s isolation and alienation, the cycle’s movement towards an existential void: the nothingness accrued with terrible inevitability, a terrifying echo of the cultural vacuum that occasionally casts an grim shadow on the nation’s horizon, despite Gilhooly’s confidence that the arts, which “are central to the international standing, character and wellbeing of the nation” will, play “a huge role in our national recovery”.

Padmore and Uchida brought every quality of their musicianship that we know and love, to bear upon this music. Padmore’s tenor, ever sweet, with an occasional slightness or strain at the top poignantly emphasising the protagonist’s physical and mental struggle, enunciated and inflected Wilhelm Müller’s poems with meticulous precision and perceptiveness. Uchida’s playing was thoughtful and unrushed, the elegant clarity of her playing enabling her to paint crystalline images and imagery.

There was so much to admire and which intrigued, so much detail which compelled, and so many aspects of this performance that were deeply moving, that it is almost impossible to know where to begin, or what to select, and what to omit. There was Padmore’s beautiful legato and tapered phrasing in ‘Gute Nacht’, and the sudden forcefulness and anger at the start of the third stanza which then diminished into the lingering softness of the final major-key stanza which acquired a patina of even deeper sadness from such contrast; and, a similarly dramatic and restless contrast of floating leise and assertive laute in ‘Die Wetterfahne’, and the leanness of Uchida’s textures - the snatching away of the final trill felt cruel and hard. Fire and ice were similarly, via a wonderfully expressive rubato, counterposed in ‘Gefrorne Tränen’, but always the momentum was onwards, unstoppable, frightening.

‘Erstarrung’ swirled with a torment born on the wind and through the soul: I think I held my breath from start to finish. With ‘Die Lindenbaum’ we entered a consoling vision, the fragile unreality of which was pointed by Uchida’s soft steel-edged interjections, and which was swept aside with terrifying brusqueness by the blast which blows the hat from the wanderer’s head, leaving just a tantalising, teasing dream of what might have been. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a unity of longing and frustration, pain and fury, flood through the final phrase of ‘Wasserflut’: “Da ist meiner Leibsten Haus.” Similarly, Uchida’s wonderfully/terribly dry staccato in ‘Auf dem Flusse’ made the musical imagery of the swelling under the crust of ice that coats the river - as the voice releases its fears, supported by the rich piano bass, now released from its fetters - almost impossible to bear.

With ‘Irrlicht’ - snatched fragments, poignant octaves, richer indulgences - the disintegration of the protagonist’s wholeness seemed to begin. Have the cocks and ravens that disrupt the dreams of spring ever felt more devilish? Or the whispered, silken retreat to a fantasy of love’s renewal more beguilingly dangerous? The daring temporal freedom in ‘Einsamkeit’ pressed home the self-destructive emotional excess which the wanderer bears; in ‘Der greise Kopf’, wisdom and wistfulness only just repressed upswells of painful emotion, and the darkness lingered in the uncomfortable shadows of the low-lying ‘Die Krähe’.

Padmore did, entirely forgivably, tire a little, and some of the latter songs were a touch less ‘accurate’, but this often lent them a vulnerability that was deeply affecting: in the face of the crisp rattles and barks of ‘Im Dorfe’, the protagonist’s dismissal of the dogs’ warning, and of the invitation to dream, seemed all the more dangerous. What did not ever lessen was Padmore’s acuity with regard to verbal weight and meaning: there was a heart-wrenching moment of self-awareness in ‘Täuschung’ when the wanderer recognises and condemns his own susceptibility to dreams and hope - this seemed to propel us into the abyss. ‘Das Wirthaus’ is marked sehr langsam and Uchida played the piano introduction as if she could not take a single step further - I could feel the suffocating weight on my own shoulders - and then through the burden floated the blanched but ever sweet vocal line, condemning the signs that invite travellers into cool inn.

In ‘Mut’, Padmore seemed to push forward more than Uchida expected, and now it was the pianist who seemed a little weary, though this only added to the verisimilitude. I shut my eyes during ‘Die Nebensonnen’, always the most wonderful moment of transfiguration. And, then, only the hurdy-gurdy man stood between us and nothingness. Has the imagery of ‘Der Leiermann’ every seemed more apt or painful? - “with numb fingers he grinds away as best he can”, “barefoot on the ice … his little plate remains always empty”, “No-one wants to hear him, no-one looks at him … the dogs growl”.

For the first time in this series, the silence after the music had dissolved into the void was truly appropriate and profound. But, the end of ‘Der Leiermann’ seems to beckon us into a journey of renewal, “Shall I go with you? … Will you, to my songs, play your hurdy-gurdy?” asks the exhausted wanderer. Are we propelled back to the opening of ‘Gute Nacht’, in media res? Perhaps the piano’s relentless steps have never stopped - so out of the void will come music? The hurdy-gurdy man’s abyss may at first seem an alarming metaphor for the imminent silencing of the nation’s cultural life, but perhaps his music is infinite?

Padmore himself, in his opening remarks, reminded us of Brecht’s motto to his Svendborg Poems (1939):

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

And in an essay, ‘Undefeated Despair’, written in 2006 in response to the growing crisis in Palestine, John Berger wrote of ‘Despair without fear, without resignation, without a sense of defeat.’ As the lights go out at Wigmore Hall for an unknowable length of time, let us hope, and be certain, that the bright times, and the singing about them, will return to our lives soon.

Claire Seymour

Mark Padmore (tenor), Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

Franz Schubert - Winterreise D911

Wigmore Hall, London; Friday 26th June 2020.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):