Although a reviewer below declares that Mark Padmore is the best contemporary tenor for lieder singing, his reputation stands far below his fellow Englishman's, Ian Bostridge. Both have that piping, heady timbre that is beloved in the British Isles, a grown-up version of the choir boy. I barely endure such a voice, to be frank, and therefore Padmore is barely on my radar. But recent exposure to him as the Evangelist in Bach's St. John Passion made me sit up, and curiosity attracted me to this new Winterreise.
What does Padmore have going for him? First, a rising star at the piano. Paul Lewis is already renowned in Britain; he's cut from the same classical cloth as his mentor, Alfred Brendel, himself a noted lieder accompanist. Right off, one notices that Lewis is listening to his singer and making small expressive adjustments in phrasing. That's a big plus -- too many celebrity accompanists forge ahead without a flexible regard for the vocal line. As for Padmore himself, he's sensitive and musical. Schubert wrote Winterreise for a light tenor, yet over the years the tragic import of the cycle has drawn heavier voices to it. One must admit that when he sings loud or tries to be forceful, Padmore's vocal lightness lets him down. Soft and poignant is his natural domain, as another previous reviewer notes. Lewis remains too reticent, no doubt to be in harmony with Padmore. Winterreise asks for a passionate cry from the heart, and it's not quite there.
The same reviewer says, and I agree, that this Winterreise doesn't build; Padmore's style remains essentially the same from beginning to end. Bostridge outdoes him in variety and intensity of expression. For real dramatic impact, one must turn to tenors on the order of Peter Pears and Peter Schreier, or if you want a voice as light as Padmore's, the excellent German, Werner Gura. This CD was greeted like the second coming in Britain, but I'm by no means convinced.