Hearing the harmonies: Mark Padmore and Jonathan Biss delight in Clarice collaboration

This blog post is by Emily Schweich, junior broadcast journalism major.

Mark Padmore & Jonathan Biss

Mark Padmore photo by Benjamin Ealovega; Jonathan Biss Photo by Marco Borgrevve

My love affair with the tenor voice began in late high school. When I began seriously studying voice, I realized that not all tenors were pubescent boys who had to tip their chins to the ceiling in order to hit high notes. Since then, I’ve been hooked. A well-trained tenor voice is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world to me, and British tenor Mark Padmore delivered in his exquisite Clarice performance, a collaboration with American pianist Jonathan Biss.

It’s safe to stay that tenors are still my favorite voice part.

The first half of the program included two Schumann pieces that reflected the composer’s passion for literature. Liederkreis, Op. 24 is a song cycle with melancholy text written by Heinrich Heine. While Schumann composed this piece at a happy time in his life, shortly after he married, his setting of Heine’s poetry reflected the sadness and depression that persisted throughout the composer’s life as a result of his sister’s suicide and the death of his father. The piano plays an important role in this piece, engaging in poetic dialogue with the voice. Biss and Padmore communicated effortlessly, sometimes through a single glance, although Biss was sometimes a bit overbearing. Padmore had impeccable control over his voice, and his phrasing was immaculate.

Before performing Schumann’s Sechs Gedichte und Requiem (“Six Poems and Requiem”), Op. 90, Padmore shared with the audience his three steps to learning a piece of music:

  1. Speak the words.
  2. Sing the melodies.
  3. Hear the harmonies.

I felt encouraged to listen closely to the harmonies in the piano accompaniment and felt especially moved by the surprise modulation at the end of the second poem, Meine Rose (“My Rose,”), which Padmore described as “the ground [being] taken away from your feet and falling into unusual places.” In both of these pieces, Padmore maintained a beautiful, tender legato tone, and the German words effortlessly rolled off his tongue.

Biss shone in the second half of the program in Michael Tippett’s Boyhood’s End, a cantata for solo voice and piano. He threw himself into the virtuosic piano part with such tenacity that the audience could hear him gasp with emotion. His skill and Padmore’s light, smooth tone created a vibrant texture in Faure’s La Bonne Chanson, Op. 61 that gave me chills. When we thought the night was over, the two returned for an encore --“Ständchen” from Schubert’s “Schwanengesang” – a simply beautiful showcase of this dynamic partnership. It’s safe to stay that tenors are still my favorite voice part.