Mark Padmore has an unconventional voice, but the British tenor knows how to use it to the best effect. This he demonstrated once again in a recital heard Friday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at Maryland, performed with American pianist Jonathan Biss as collaborating artist. The audience may have filled only about half of the hall, one of the venue’s smaller ones, but the spell woven was often intoxicating.
In my favorite Padmore recording, he partnered with Kristian Bezuidenhout on a 19th-century piano, a mellow instrument that suited his lighter voice better than the modern piano. That disc included Schumann’s “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, which also opened this concert. Padmore’s enigmatic tone, sometimes thin or, oddly, almost strangled, helped evoke the often strange sentiments of Heinrich Heine’s poetry. There, as well as in Schumann’s “Six Poems and Requiem,” Padmore floated soft high notes in an otherworldly way, making the dreamy songs the high point. Although Biss was generally an able, if sometimes overpowering accompanist, he was at his best making solo contributions in the many important postludes to the songs.
Padmore’s diction was impeccable, relishing the sounds of consonants without affection. Michael Tippett’s cantata “Boyhood’s End” had some high notes that were just out of Padmore’s reach, but the almost manic passages of this unusual work were thrilling, thanks in no small part to Biss’s virtuosity at the keyboard. Biss was also essential in Gabriel Fauré’s “La bonne chanson,” in which his endlessly undulating figuration allowed Padmore to just glide over the top of the texture. A single encore, Schubert’s “Ständchen” from “Schwanengesang,” was as sweet as a nightingale’s call.
Downey is a freelance writer.