There were rattling contrasts even in the first song of the program: the Op. 94 setting, Beethoven’s second, of “An die Hoffnung” (“To Hope”), which starts with a recitative-like questioning of God’s existence before launching into lyrical lines that showcase the fine softness of Padmore’s upper range, and a radiant climax. “Resignation,” which followed, had the Schubertian spareness to which his voice is best suited; simpler still was “Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel” (“Evening Song Beneath the Starry Sky”), its closing chords of childlike purity played by Uchida as if a private prayer.
“An die ferne Geliebte” (“To the Distant Beloved”) is often regarded as the first song cycle: six brief text settings, flowing without pause, in a precursor to longer Schubert masterpieces like “Die schöne Müllerin” and “Winterreise.” Throughout, Uchida and Padmore behaved like a single instrument; so thorough was their shared vision that they almost never cued or acknowledged each other, even for rubato stretchings of the line or for abrupt changes in tempo.
As in the account of “Schwanengesang” (“Swan Song”) that followed, Padmore’s sound was remarkable most for its balance of clarity and character. Similar to Uchida, his performances are compelling — without the theatricality of, for example, Bostridge, who tends to serve Schubert with a side of self-immolation.
“Schwanengesang” wouldn’t benefit from histrionics, anyway; a loose collection of Schubert’s final songs, it lacks the through line of his cycles, packing their intensity into discrete pieces that demand discrete interpretations. If one trait united them here, though, it was restraint. The famous “Ständchen” (“Serenade”), for example, has an expressive style that invites schmaltz, but also maintains a chilly distance in its articulation — a tension borne out in Padmore’s wide vocal contours and Uchida’s staccato, choked off like a series of declarations repeatedly withheld.
Schubert verges on tone painting in some of the collection’s later songs; Uchida responded with pedal work that, in “Die Stadt” (“The Town”), allowed the rumbling low notes to evoke a dense fog occasionally penetrated by a mysterious run in the right hand, like an image coming in and out of focus. In “Der Doppelgänger” — one of Schubert’s most terrifying songs — she sustained dissonances, letting their uneasiness warp and linger under Padmore’s stark melody.