Schubert’s final collection of songs, compiled posthumously under the title Schwanengesang, may not trace a narrative journey as unified as those mapped out in Winterreise or Die schöne Müllerin, but the most perceptive interpreters create a dramatic arc all of their own. The final disc in Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis’s triptych of the great Schubert song cycles finds them as emotionally attuned to the music and to one another as in previous volumes.
Few tenors can give such potent voice to the bitterness Schubert poured into the lieder of his final year, but Padmore’s engagement with the text (well-rounded diction with plenty of “ch” in the “ach”!) and variety of tone place him among the best. His is a light instrument, but never lightweight – just listen to him bemoan carrying a world of sorrow on his shoulders in Atlas. Although he has developed a wide, almost braying vibrato in recent years, this actually works in his favour here, adding searing stabs of melodic intensity. And he can still rein it in for a warm, pure line, as he does when gently enfolding us in the Serenade.
He could not have asked for a more steadfast, sensitive companion than Lewis. The pianist varies his touch only in the simplest and subtlest of ways, his impeccable phrasing underpinning Padmore throughout. With the starkest of gestures they heighten the incredible atmosphere of foreboding around Ihr Bild and Der Doppelgänger. In addition to Schwanengesang, the disc includes Padmore’s triumphant high B in the glorious Auf dem Strom, a beautifully balanced trio with French horn played to burnished perfection by Richard Watkins.