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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Songs of Travel (words by Robert Louis Stevenson) [24:03]: (The Vagabond [3:24]; Let Beauty awake [1:57]; The Roadside Fire [2:17]; Youth and Love [3:34]; In Dreams [2:18]; The Infinite Shining Heavens [2:15]; Whither must I wander? [4:14]; Bright is the ring of words [2:10]; I have trod the upward and the downward slope [1:54])
The House of Life (words by Dante Gabriel Rossetti) [26:27]: (Love-sight [4:29]; Silent Noon [4:09]; Love’s Minstrels [5:21]; Heart’s Haven [3:46]; Death in Love [4:28]; Love’s Last Gift [4:15])
Linden Lea (words by W Barnes) [2:44]
Four Poems by Fredegond Shove [13:53]: (Motion and Stillness [2:01]; Four Nights [3:33]; The New Ghost [5:15]; The Water Mill [3:04])
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Ian Burnside (piano)
Recorded in Potton Hall, Suffolk, 27-29 August 2004. DDD

Roderick Williams is well-known as a brilliant and passionate advocate of English music. His recordings on Naxos - not least his excellent Finzi disc in the English Song Series review and Vaughan Williams’ evocative Willow Wood review - have all been of the greatest calibre, with sensitive, expressive singing. This fourteenth disc in the Naxos English Song Series is no exception.

Williams’ voice is warm, and gloriously resonant and assured, with a gorgeous, rich, dark timbre. He sings with confidence and with fantastic enunciation – one really can hear every single word.

The Vagabond opens the disc – presenting the singer with a wonderful spring in his step, and good plodding footsteps in the accompaniment. In fact, throughout the disc Burnside proves a most sympathetic and adroit accompanist, for instance providing supple, nimble and beautifully flowing accompaniment in Let beauty awake. Williams’ voice suits this repertoire down to the ground – absolutely perfect in Wither must I wander and suitably tender in The infinite shining heavens. He invests the opening of his exceptional rendition of Youth and love with magical tranquillity, incredible clarity and searing beauty of voice that would make it worth purchasing the disc for this song alone! Bright is the ring of words is spacious, bold and well paced. In I have trod the upward and the downward slope, a barely-concealed sorrow and wisdom, and a heaviness of age and experience shine through Williams’ convincing expression of the words.

The House of Life follows, with delightfully poignant and poetic renditions of Love–sight, Love’s Last Gift and Silent Noon (the latter song with perfect vibrato), and an exceptionally lyrical and beautiful Love’s Minstrels.

Linden Lea is always a challenge, given the huge number of excellent – and classic – versions. Yet Williams certainly holds his own here. He takes the song at a good pace and is remarkably relaxed and unconcerned, with the result that the song flows naturally, without sounding at all rushed or forced. There are no histrionics, no misplaced passions, just a refreshing sense of space and ease - "Let other folk", for example, is merely confident, joyful and free, and not belted out as with some singers.

The lovely Four Poems by Fredegond Shove are - The Water Mill apart - generally less well-known, but their neglect in favour of other works is unjustified. Williams captures the ghostly mood of Motion and Stillness perfectly, creating a mesmeric stillness at the end of the song. The lovely Four Nights is sensitively sung, and The New Ghost is performed with haunting intensity, Williams’ resonant voice full of melancholic urgency.

I was tremendously impressed by this disc, which exceeded the very high expectations I had entertained. The singing is outstanding – deeply intelligent, powerful and highly-charged. Some may find that Williams employs a little too much vibrato in the songs for their taste. This is not, however, a concern that troubles me in the slightest. The accompaniment is of the highest standard, and the songs are given astoundingly beautiful performances. I cannot recommend this disc highly enough.

Em Marshall

See also review by Anne Ozorio (December Bargain of the Month)



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