The Wigmore Hall’s season-long “celebration” of Paul Lewis has featured the pianist in a variety of roles besides that of solo recitalist. His latest manifestation was as a Lieder accompanist, partnering Allan Clayton in Die Schöne Müllerin.
Clayton’s steady rise up the ranks of younger British tenors has been propelled mostly by his operatic performances; we appear to have heard much less of him as a recitalist. But this account of Schubert’s song cycle seemed to grow steadily in authority after an uncertain start when both partners seemed to be getting the measure of the hall; Lewis a little bit overassertive, Clayton sometimes pushing rather hard – perhaps in compensation.
It was soon clear, though, that their sense of the cycle as a whole was sound enough. There was urgency in Lewis’s playing from the beginning, and the darker undercurrents of the drama began to exert their power in the sixth setting, Der Neugierige (The Inquisitive One), when Schubert breaks the strophic structure of the song, the music modulates and the young protagonist is allowed his first moment of reflection in a passage of recitative. Clayton caught the change of mood in that moment exactly, and from then on used the colours and registers in his voice very skilfully, to bring out the ever-changing contours of the cycle’s psychological landscape.
There was real edge to the fierce account of Der Jäger (The Hunter), Clayton matching Lewis’s stabbing staccatos with his own; and a hauntingly rendition of Die Liebe Farbe (The Beloved Colour), in which the unadorned simplicity of Clayton’s quiet singing was beautifully set against the nagging insistence of the endlessly repeated F sharp in the piano accompaniment. By then, though, it was clear enough where the cycle was going, and the final two songs had no need to twist the emotional knife any more; both singer and pianist could make their points in an understated way.