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Aldeburgh Festival (11) :  Blythburgh Church: Roderick Williams - baritone, Roger West - piano. 18.06.2006 (JW)


Schoenberg:  Five Songs
Dominic Muldowney;
Five Shakespeare Songs
Songs from the Red Cockatoo and Other Songs
Five Songs


One of the delights of Aldeburgh are song recitals in country churches. Blythburgh Church, with angels on its roof, is perhaps one of the most charming of these. One of the features of this generous recital was the introduction of a new series of Shakespeare settings, an Aldeburgh Festival commission,  by the composer Dominic Muldowney himself.


He explained that, reflecting upon his work at the National Theatre where he was for many years Music Director, there were few composers who had set text in English where the words could be clearly heard, and this was the task he set himself. He had also created a cycle of seasons in the texts he had chosen - 'Sigh No More, Ladies'; 'Under the Greenwood Tree'; 'Winter'; 'It was a Lover and His Lass' and 'Fear no more the Heat o'the Sun'.


This task had been amply fulfilled; both the music itself and Williams' singing  were clear and precise, enabling every word to be heard easily by the listener. Muldowney also managed to bring innovation to material which is already familiar, in itself no mean feet, for example with 'ding a ding' in 'It was a Lover and his Lass' being interpreted as a doorbell, a scene of urgent ringing of that bell rather than the more familiar pastoral and arcadian soundscapes that this text can be associated with.


The same clarity of diction was a quality Williams brought to the entire programme (and indeed to his role as the Emperor in Stravinsky's 'Nightingale'  with the CBSO in Birmingham on the preceding Wednesday). In the opening Schoenberg, where the words are full of turbulent emotion, the performance was rather lacking in emotion and lightness of touch. This improved as the afternoon went on; the new song cycle was well received, the Britten was good and the Mahler was excellent.


The rather dry style of delivery was effective in bring out the humour of Britten's 'Red Cockatoo' song, which was particularly good. His setting of Blake's 'A Poison Tree' was also notable. The Mahler brought out more tenderness, without any loss of clarity and intonation, especially in the 'Serenade from Don Juan'.  In the following 'How to Make Naughty Children behave', Roderick Williams returned to the start of the piece after a false start - a gesture of humility which showed a warm and human touch in what had hitherto sometimes been a rather impersonal delivery - and which in fact had the effect of gaining rather than losing audience sympathy. I liked his singing of the Mahler songs and would like to hear more of him in that composer's work. The piano accompaniment, always good,  was also excellent in the Mahler.


Julie  Williams


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