On Tuesday night at Gates Hall at the Newman Center for Performing Arts there was a double sighting. Robert Schumann at the keyboard and Robert Schumann singing the poetry of Heinrich Heine. Internationally known pianist Paul Lewis and the acclaimed tenor Mark Padmore presented an evening of art song for the Friends of Chamber Music series in Denver. The second half was reserved for Schumann’s Dichterliebe, written in 1822-1823 as a song cycle that circumnavigated the unsteady path of his love for Clara Wieck. With Padmore and Lewis’ care the 16 songs built a narrative arc with complexity and fervor.
Paul Lewis began with the few notes supplied by Schumann for the first short song, ‘In the Wondrous month of May’ (English translations are given here although Padmore sang in German.) Lewis’ touch reflected the young lover’s hesitation before professing his affection. Padmore’s lyric tenor voice was passionate and tender. The performance was as Schumann intended; an intimate chamber concert. Padmore suggested that this music was written to be performed in a home with a few guests.
What struck me about Padmore’s rendition of the oft performed song cycle was his restraint. His expressive singing unfolded the bliss of Schumann seeing his beloved, as well as the pain of heartbreak as expressed in one of the climactic pieces, ‘I bear no grudge.’ From song to song, sung without breaks, Padmore’s fervor grew with the underlying desperation in the score. The song, ‘I wept in my dream,’ was sung initially a cappella. The audience sat silent without a cough listening to Padmore’s pianissimo. Tears were nearly visible from the Mezzanine.
Lewis’ playing was not accompaniment. That was not his assignment. His interpretation gripped the complications of love. Beyond his precise technique was Lewis’ sensitive collaborative ear that lent a symbiotic balance of the two voices as they interlaced to create a whole. His virtuoustic handling of the insistent music added tension to their interpretation. Each note in ‘My coach rolls slowly’ released into the next like the ‘shadowy forms’ as seen in the poet’s dream. Padmore’s phrasing was a mirror. The two musicians breathed as one, one Schumann.