MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.


Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny
  • Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



Oxford Lieder Festival 2009 (2) – Wolf, Korngold, Mahler, Schumann: Roderick Williams and Andrew West, Holywell Music Room,  Oxford. 26.10.2009 (RJ)

Art song, especially sung in a foreign language, tends to be a minority taste here in Britain. So it might seem that a two week festival devoted exclusively to this genre is doomed to fail.

Yet the Oxford Lieder Festival, under the enterprising Sholto Kynoch, has proved the sceptics wrong - for the eighth year running. Alongside Schubert's three great song cycles it has presented several rarities, such as Schoenberg's Das Buch der haengenden Gaerten, Poulenc's Fiancailles pour rire and the European premiere of Ned Rorem's Evidence of Things Not Seen.

Nor could Roderick Williams' recital be described as run of the mill. He began with a well chosen selection from Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch, anonymous love poems, simple yet often poignant. In one a lover dreams of his sweetheart, gets up and walks through the streets playing his lute in search of her. In another he experiences ecstasy at the sight of her flowing golden locks blowing in the wind.

The personable Mr Williams brought a feeling of intimacy to the songs with fine support from pianist Andrew West. There was a good sense of contrast in Benedeit die selige Mutter where the prayer-like opening erupts into an outburst of passion. The sequence ended on a more carefree note with the swaggering serenader of Ein Staendchen Euch zu bringen.

Erich Korngold is best known for his Hollywood scores and the opera Die Tote Stadt, but he also composed Lieder, among them the Lieder des Abschieds, Opus 14. The work starts with a setting of Christina Rossetti's When I am dead, my dearest, in a German translation, with a lush piano accompaniment plus a hint of dissonance. There was an engaging tenderness to Roderick Williams' treatment of this song which became bleaker as it progressed.

He brought a more dramatic tone to Dies eine kann mein Sehnen nimmer fassen which starts with an outpouring of bitterness and gives way to resignation. There was little consolation in the prayer to the moon (Mond so gehst du wieder auf) which seems unresponsive to the singer's grief. However, some resolution came in the final song, Gefasster Abschied (Resigned Farewell) and both the music and the words struck a more hopeful chord.

Roderick Williams' aptitude for characterisation found expression in a selection from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs. A soldier marches off confidentally off to war while his sweetheart doubts that he will return. A gentleman rider fancies the mistress of the castle until he discovers she has awful children in Ku-kukuk. And a doctor tells his patient in no uncertain terms what is wrong with him: he's a fool!

Although I am a great admirer of Schumann's songs, I must confess to being unfamiliar with his Kernerlieder. Written in 1840 just after his marriage to Clara, this work is more aptly described as a song sequence rather than a song cycle in the manner of Frauenliebe und Leben. The poems are introspective and sometimes gloomy, yet the quality of the music transforms them into something special.

The piano part in Schumann's lieder is always crucial; often the composer lets the pianist have the last word. So it was good to have a pianist with Andrew West's sensitivity and intelligence partnering Mr Williams in these songs.

The two gave a particularly memorable account of the ballad-like Stirb, Lieb' und Freud in which the piano mimics an organ voluntary as a girl goes to church and kneels in prayer before a statue of the Virgin Mary. The narrator observes the scene, dispassionately at first, but eventually reveals himself as her lover, distraught at her decision to become a nun.

Other songs are more robust and cheerful, such as the adventurous 19th century backpacker of Wanderlied keen to see the world, but touched by the migratory birds that bring him reminders of home. There was a spectral quality singer as he addresses the wine glass of a departed friend while the concluding song, Alte Laute, with its spare accompaniment reminded one of the aching emptiness of Der Leiermann in Winterreise. It was a poignant ending which left the audience stunned. What a magnificent and engaging performance this was!

Roger Jones


Back to Top Page
Cumulative Index Page