There isn't an ideal English title translation for Verdi's La traviata. Often given as The Fallen Woman, it can be more accurately translated as “the woman who has gone astray”. Even ENO prefers its Italian title. Rather than The Fallen Woman, Mark Padmore's fine Wigmore Hall recital could have borne the title The Fallen Man as two of the works chart the downfall of men, albeit in very different ways. The country lad in Janáček's The Diary of One who Disappeared succumbs to temptation and runs away with a gypsy girl, while Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection.

<i>Narcissus</i> © Caravaggio
Narcissus
© Caravaggio
Ryan Wigglesworth's Echo and Narcissus: A Dramatic Cantata had its première at the 2014 Aldeburgh Festival and is a setting of the Narcissus poem from Ted Hughes' Tales from Ovid, a superb collection of narrative free verse. Wigglesworth knew he wanted to set the poem since its 1997 publication, but it was only when he performed Janáček's Diary that he settled on what the form should be. As in the Janáček, Wigglesworth has three protagonists – a mezzo-soprano who acts as the Chorus to narrate the tale, a tenor as Narcissus and other female voices as the wistful Echo, singing off-stage. Britten's Canticles, which also use multiple voices, also seem an inspiration. Hughes' text flits between narrative, dialogue and a soliloquy for Narcissus, with Wigglesworth adding further piano commentary.

Victoria Simmonds made for an urgent narrator – sung, spoken, whispered – describing the birth of Narcissus and Echo's infatuation with him. Given Narcissus' preening tone, a beautiful tenor voice was called for and Padmore fits the bill, clean lines, lyrical, perfect enunciation. He was also able to embody the anguish of Narcissus' cruel fate: “My beauty is in full bloom – But I am a cut flower.” The music shifts from gritty to lamenting to lyrical over its 15-minute span and is constantly engaging. Wigglesworth's piano rippled as, in response to Narcissus' vehement “I would sooner be dead/Than let you touch me”, Echo pleaded in whispered moans from the balcony: “Touch me, touch me”. Padmore, eventually left his music stand, creeping behind the piano as Narcissus entered the Land of the Dead, heading straight for the Styx to seek his reflection among the current.

Ryan Wigglesworth © Benjamin Ealovega
Ryan Wigglesworth
© Benjamin Ealovega
That sense of being tethered to the music stand impeded Padmore in Janáček's Diary. The young lad yearns for the mysterious gypsy girl Zefka, yet tries to resist temptation, but this was only apparent in Padmore's vocal delivery. It wasn't until Simmonds sauntered in from the green room and leant against the wall that the performance truly crackled into life. A simple unwinding of her scarf which she languidly let drop to the ground was enough to suggest the moment where Zefka finally hooks her man. After confessing to stealing his sister's skirt as a gift for his mistress, the lad gives into his carnal desires, Padmore passionately singing how Zefka's “rough-spun skirt now rides up high” before eventually eloping with her and their newborn baby.

Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis, his outpouring of love for Clara Wieck, had proved a fitting programme opener. Padmore proved a keen narrator, offering different voices for Waldesgespräch (A forest dialogue). The highlight though came in Mondnacht, Wigglesworth spinning moonbeams in luminous shafts from the keyboard.