The graphics for this release by tenor Mark Padmore and fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout place Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98, at the top, and indeed that 13-minute work, which inaugurated the whole song cycle genre, qualifies as the centerpiece of the program here. Padmore gives an appealingly direct performance, with little vibrato, that gets to the work's inward intimacy, and Bezuidenhout's 1820 fortepiano is sonically ideal. Yet that's just the beginning of the attractions on this wonderful album, which is really an essential purchase for art song lovers. Padmore unearths some real rarities here, which is noteworthy in itself when you're dealing with these composers, but even better is that there are some hidden masterworks, and even better than that, is that the whole recital hangs together. For the best of all, sample the final Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel, WoO 150 (Evening Song Under a Starry Sky), one of very few songs from Beethoven's late period, and arguably the only full-scale setting. This marvelous work has the ecstatic quality of the Symphony No. 9 finale, and it's one of very few Beethoven works that suggests what was to come. The tone of Enlightenment wisdom is reflected earlier in the program in Beethoven's own An die Hoffnung, Op. 94, in Mozart's rarely heard Die ihr des unermesslichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt, K. 619 (You who honor the creator of the endless universe), and in probably the finest of Mozart's songs, Abendempfinding, K. 523 (Evening Feeling). Against these are set An die ferne Geliebte and a variety of love songs from Haydn and Mozart that put a personal quality in relief against universal dreams. Flawlessly recorded at Menuhin Hall, this is most strongly recommended.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim