Friday 1 February 2013

Mark Padmore, Gary Matthewman, Schubert and surtitles

Mark Padmore (credit Marco Borgrevve)
Mark Padmore (credit Marco Borgrevve)
We went to Gary Matthewman's Lied in London recital last night (31 January), and quite a treat it was. Mark Padmore singing Schubert's Schwanengesang. We'd seen Mark singing the same work at the Wimbledon Festival last November (see my review on this blog), but a change of venue and a change of pianist inevitably meant that we heard it with new ears. Partly this was because the venue was even smaller and more intimate than St Johns Church, in Wimbledon. Partly because with a great artist like Mark Padmore, no performance is ever quite the same and you always hear something new.

Of course, it helps if you are sitting in the second row. Mark Padmore is a very communicative artist and so that you almost didn't need the words. My German isn't quite good enough to follow lied without a crib, but his intense directness combined with the wonderful colours he finds in his voice, meant that I felt I didn't need one. In such a relatively small salon, some of the Heine settings were so intense as to verge on the uncomfortable; Heine's verse is strange, Schubert's response to it is profound and Mark Padmore's delivery masterly. 

You really do wonder what Schubert's contemporaries thought. Talking afterwards, Mark Padmore pointed out that the song recital as a genre is quite modern and that Schubert never really heard some of his great cycles sung complete in concert, he simply had sing throughs with friends. But imagine being a friend of Schubert's (who I gather was generally a friendly fellow), and hearing him play and sing through songs from the latter part of Schwanengesang or some of the songs from Winterreise. It must have been startling and strange. (Incidentally, Schumann was similar and never heard some of his songs performed in recital).

As it happened, there were experiments afoot at Mark Padmore and Gary Matthewman's recital. No-one had any printed words because, instead, they were projected above the singer onto the wall behind him. Richard Stokes excellent poetic translations were used and projected line by line. There was one technical hitch when the text was replaced by a rather brilliant image of the galaxy, which made me wonder whether that might be a way forward too. 

The general consensus from the audience seemed to be very positive. Of course, it depends on the space. As the words were projected to a wall space just above Mark Padmore's head, then you could see both singer and words at the same time, no awkward moving between the two. My only problem was that, seeing the text line by line rather emphasised the differences between the German and Richard Stokes translation (differences that arise because Stokes has made his versions poetic rather than completely literal). The general feeling seemed to be that in an ideal situation, you would have the whole stanza projected.

But having the words certainly improved the 'experience' as there was never any need to look down at your text for your crib, you could concentrate on the singer (and the pianist of course). There is nothing to beat listening to a lied in the original language and comprehending it, but this was a good second best.

There was a brief Q&A afterwards which covered audience and performer reactions to the experiment, all positive. (One German lady took advantage of the moment to compliment Mark Padmore on his Germn as well!) Mark Padmore commented that some poetry, such as some of Hardy's poems in Finzi's settings, are quite complex and when simply listening you don't always apprehend the complete poem and its sense. So even if a singer is singing in English, it can help having a crib.

It was a great pleasure to hear Mark Padmore singing Schwanengesang again so soon. My next wish is to hear him singing Winterreise, so I hope some festival directors are listening.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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