Mark Padmore and Julius Drake at Bristol St George’s

In another St George’s first for this old punk I find myself joining a somewhat smaller audience than I’ve seen for some events in this lovely atmospheric venue for a night of Lieder.

For the uninitiated, Lieder, German for ‘songs’ are poems set to music, especially from the 18th and 19th century. Tonight tenor Mark Padmore is accompanied by Julius Drake, on the Steinbeck, for three sets: the first composed by Brahms for poems taken from Heine’s ‘Buch der Lieder’. I didn’t manage to grab a program so I didn’t have access to the set list but the last of the 6 songs in this first set was my favourite of the Brahms pieces. The line, ‘Ich hör es sogar im Traum’ leads me to believe it was LXXXVII ‘Der Tod das ist die kühle Nacht’ or ‘Death that is the cool night’ (Translation: Bradshaw – it might be touch literal…)

This entire first set was complete before Mark Padmore spoke to us, his expression throughout was very earnest, as though he didn’t approve of us waiting for the end of the set before we applauded. I imagined that, of course, it was entirely proper behaviour.

The second set I am pretty sure was the Rückert Lieder, they were in any case certainly Mahler compositions – much more to my taste than the Brahms set, Rückert suffered terrible tragedy when he lost two of his children to Scarlet Fever leading him to write an astounding 428 poems in the Kindertotenlieder, and I’m not convinced that this set didn’t swap out one of those for the usual fifth song in the Rückert lieder sequence – it certainly felt very dark and brooding.

After this set we took the intermission before returning for the third and final set, after another stern reminder that the set was being recorded for BBC radio 3, so anything other than respectful breathing really wasn’t on!

This final set was the highlight for me, it was the Kerner Lieder op 35 by Robert Schumann using the poems of Justinus Kerner. This really showed off Padmore’s skill and range: it’s apparently not that often that one singer will attempt all 12 songs as they were written for different voice types.

The set ended with a partial standing-ovation, and something I didn’t expect; an encore. Schumann’s Mondnacht from Liederkreis Op39; less than 4 minutes of music but I swear the audience exhaled as one when it ended.

It was a surprisingly good night of music, but next time I’m getting a program – I have just enough German to thoroughly confuse myself.

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