Friday, June 12, 2020

Wigmore Hall, London

Guest Reviewer, Amanda-Jane Doran

“In his programme entitled Woman’s Hour, British baritone and composer Roderick Williams invites the audience to consider the question ‘Should a man be singing these songs?’ and feedback during the lunchtime broadcast.” [Wigmore Hall website]

Roderick Williams’s approach to Lieder-singing is always sensitive and considered, lively and fresh. His Wigmore Hall recital, with Joseph Middleton, showed in addition remarkable forethought, bravery and compassion.

Williams selected songs reflecting women’s life-experience and traditionally performed by women, with the aim of opening up the repertoire to all singers, irrespective of gender, as “an act of empathy and imagination … accessing emotions we feel to be true.”

Williams and Middleton brought a measured intelligence to the opening set of Schubert settings, detail and intensity creeping in, with bursts of emotion in Gretchen am Spinnrade, spontaneous outpourings contrasting with the regular lilt of the spinning wheel in the piano part. Passion and fear in epic proportions were conveyed in Der Tod und das Mädchen and in the cinematic description of the storm at the beginning of Die junge Nonne. Williams’s narrative power and ease with the German texts was utterly convincing across the range of female and male roles. The sweet legato Alleluia to conclude Die junge Nonne was breathtaking.

The complex, bittersweet emotional landscape of Schubert gave way to a selection of love-songs by Brahms and Clara Schumann, highlighting the gorgeous song of the nightingale and the vertiginous wheeling of the swallow. Playful scenes, the expansiveness of love reciprocated, and the despair of lost love were explored in these miniature masterpieces.

Robert Schumann’s song-cycle Frauenliebe und -leben formed the core of the recital and again Williams’s powers of persuasion were absolute.  The journey from naïve young girl, passionate lover, through motherhood to early bereavement was stunningly evoked. The intoxication of love and its dream-like state was never forced and Williams used a range of vocal colours to differentiate the elation, sensuality and humour of the poetry. The sixth number, ‘Süsser Freund’, encapsulated the subtlety of his approach and the final song of shock and loss was veiled with apparent grief.

Sapphische Ode, a sexy, rose-drenched Lied from Brahms was given as a gorgeous encore. In the empty Wigmore Hall, the roses should have been thrown at Williams’s and Middleton’s feet.