This month, we explore the world of Lieder. What makes a good programme? How should audiences approach Lieder recitals? We talk to today’s leading exponents of art song to gain an insight into a world that can sometimes be difficult for audiences to crack. Our first male singer to offer his thoughts is tenor Mark Padmore.

Mark Padmore © Marco Borggreve
Mark Padmore
© Marco Borggreve

Bachtrack: What criteria do you use when putting together a programme for a song recital?

Mark Padmore: I enjoy recitals that have literary themes and are not just collections of beautiful melodies. I believe that the best recitals can make you think as well as feel.

What advice would you give audience newcomers to Lieder recitals to help them approach the repertoire? Should performers talk to their audiences during recitals?

I would say that Lieder is a combination of words (poetry) and music and that it really helps to pay attention to both. I also think that recitals are essentially chamber music and that singer and pianist are equal partners. Communication is what it is really about and often a bit of talking by the performers helps the audience to feel included. Ideally it becomes a three-way conversation between composer/poet, performers and audience.

How does it feel to see heads buried in programmes following the text during a recital? Would surtitles help? Should the audience read the texts beforehand?

I have performed with subtitles only once – when I performed the three Schubert song cycles with Kris Bezuidenhout in the White Lights Festival at New York’s Lincoln Center. I think it worked very well and I would be very happy to have surtitles in most of my recitals. When I am in the audience I try to do a mixture of skim reading and looking up and listening.

What advantages are there to the Lieder platform from the operatic stage?

I not sure I really understand the question... but I love both. Doing recitals you certainly have more control and it is a great test of your abilities as a storyteller. You can create worlds in the imagination.

What is your favourite song/Lied to perform?

I honestly love the repertoire I perform. I believe that the song repertoire is the equal of the best chamber music – it contains some of the most profound works of art ever produced. It is just a shame that it is so little appreciated.

Which languages do you prefer to sing in?

I love singing in German. The programme I am performing at the moment with Paul Lewis is all Heine and Goethe – wonderful poetry and amazing music by Schumann, Brahms, Schubert and Wolf.

Do you have a regular pianist to partner you in recitals? What are his/her best qualities?

I love rehearsing and performing with many different pianists. They all challenge and inspire me in different ways. I will never know this repertoire well enough but I will never stop exploring it either.