British tenor Mark Padmore has the gift of sounding natural. On stage at the Perelman Theater on Wednesday night, he frequently held vibrato in reserve, and, by expressing the lyric as clearly as though spoken, revealed it as the thing he holds dear.
In the art-song realm, rarified though it may be, the standards are high at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, where Gerald Finley and Hildegard Behrens have left indelibly visceral accounts of everything words alone cannot say. If Padmore lacks the emotional range to do with his voice what some others can, he does an enormous amount with what he has. In contemporary parlance, he puts himself out there.
The recital was Schumann-heavy, with two sets of songs, and Padmore beautifully covered the Schumann spectrum - near-unbearable peaks of elation, frantic darkness, and the trembling hopefulness that makes Schumann unique. Pianist Jonathan Biss understands the composer well, and in the Liederkreis met Padmore's needs to an almost clairvoyant degree, matching pitch, articulation, and length of notes. But in terms of sound, what was Biss really aiming for? To hear his liquid cello lines at the end of the Liederkreis, or the complex tumult in the second song, translated as "I'm Driven Here, I'm Driven There," Biss hears an orchestra in his head.
The writing is so specifically idiomatic for piano, though, in Schumann's Sechs Gedichte von Nikolaus Lenau und Requiem - even Brahmsian in "Loneliness" - that you were grateful to have someone such as Biss emphasizing textural clarity at the keyboard.
He and Padmore made much of the imagery in Fauré's La Bonne Chanson, but Michael Tippett's Boyhood's End (1943) captured something more. The British composer shares a musical language with Hindemith and Britten, and to a small degree the harmonies of jazz. The William Henry Hudson poem, wistful as it is, gathers nuanced layers with the music. Here, Padmore's powers of intensification were greatest.