Padmore/Kashkashian/De Guise-Langlois/Biss – review

Wigmore Hall, London

Jonathan Biss's two-concert residency at the Wigmore Hall centred on Schumann. This short series was not just a routine presentation of familiar pieces, though, but an attempt to place Schumann in a wider historical context. For this programme, Biss had recruited tenor Mark Padmore, viola player Kim Kashkashian and clarinettist Romie de Guise-Langlois for two mirror-like pairs of works: in the first, Schumann was the object of the tribute, while in the second it was Schumann who was paying the homage.

György Kurtág's Hommage à R Sch seems to be modelled on Schumann's late Märchenerzählungen, which preceded it here. It not only shares its instrumentation (clarinet, viola and piano) but also its capricious changes of mood – though the last of Kurtág's six movements, a funeral march longer than the previous five put together and ending with a bass drum thud, acquires a tragic dimension that Schumann's music never contemplates. Kurtág's textures are leaner and more purposeful, too – Biss sometimes had to be very careful that Schumann's heavily chordal piano writing didn't totally overwhelm the beautifully inflected and coloured contributions from the clarinet and the viola.

The links in the second half of the programme were less oblique, for Schumann apparently quotes the motto theme of Beethoven's song-cycle An die Ferne Geliebte in the first movement of his C major Fantasy. Padmore sang the cycle impeccably, though at times his rapt devotional air made you wish for a more unbuttoned response; Biss followed that with a performance of the piano work that swept all before it. It is easy to turn the Fantasy into a showpiece – it was dedicated to Liszt, after all – but Biss never does anything just for effect, and everything here had a point and musical purpose. He has few peers as a Schumann pianist today.

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Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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