Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Six songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch
Gesegnet sei, durch den die Welt enstund (1890) [1:22]
Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett (1896) [1:42]
Geselle, wolln wir uns in Kutten hüllen (1891) [2:12]
Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen (1891) [2:03]
Sterb’ ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder (1896) [2:21]
Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen kam ich her (1891) [1:42]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Vier Lieder des Abschieds, Op. 14 (1920-21) [14:52]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen (1887-91) [1:56]
Erinnerung (1889) [2:24]
Ich ging mit Lust (1887-91) [4:19]
Aus! Aus! (1887-91) [2:29]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kerner Lieder, Op. 35 (1840) [32:14]
Roderick Williams (baritone); Helmut Deutsch (piano)
rec. live, 25 February 2011, Wigmore Hall, London. DDD
German texts and English translations included
At the moment there are a large number of really fine exponents of art songs before the public and Roderick Williams is up there with the best of them. He’s attracted particular acclaim for his work in the field of English song but he’s equally at home in mélodies and lieder and this very fine recital amply confirms his expertise in the latter category. Williams has made a discerning choice of repertoire here and each group offers contrast within it and plays to his strengths. Apart from the sheer pleasure of the sound of his voice something that I particularly admire about Roderick Williams is his care over the texts. His diction is invariably very clear but more than that you can tell that he’s taken considerable trouble to study the poetry and to understand it so that he puts it across to his audience with exceptional intelligence. He also characterises the texts very well indeed. All this is very much in evidence during this programme.
So, in the Wolf group he brings to life the various characters depicted in Geselle, wolln wir uns in Kutten hüllen in a keenly observed and entertaining portrayal. By contrast, in the very next song, Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen, he caresses the words, delivering them with wonderfully warm, smooth tone. Both Williams and Helmut Deutsch display exemplary control in Sterb’ ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder and the soft high notes that the singer produces on the very last word, “deinetwegen” betoken an enviable technique, effortlessly deployed. Indeed, throughout this recital Roderick Williams’s use of his top register is quite superb.
The Korngold songs are an enterprising choice. The composer’s rich late Romantic palette can sometimes seem a little cloying but not here. The description of the music in the notes as “framed by a bittersweet halo” seems very apt. The first song, ‘Sterbelied’, which sets a German translation of a poem by Christina Rossetti, is a wistfully melancholic remembrance of the past. Roderick Williams’s enviable legato, the high notes produced purely and evenly, enables him to do full justice to the song. The demanding, often high-lying vocal line of the third song, ‘Mond, so gehst du wieder auf’, is a real test of technique but Williams seems effortless in projecting the line in an expressive reading of this regretful song.
The Mahler group is well chosen with two outgoing songs encasing a pair of more thoughtful ones. I very much enjoyed Ich ging mit Lust, a setting of sophisticated innocence. This is another opportunity for Williams to demonstrate his flawless top register and both musicians invest this song with pleasing delicacy. Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen is almost archaic in style - deliberately so - but it offers Williams another opportunity to display his gift for characterising words and thereby for telling a story: he takes the opportunity with relish. Aus! Aus! is one of Mahler’s military-inspired songs. Williams brings it vividly to life, much to the delight of the audience.
Schumann’s settings of twelve poems by Justinius Kerner (1786-1862) are some of the fruits of his miraculous Liederjahr, 1840. However, as Gavin Plumley points out in his notes, despite the joy of marriage - at last - to Clara, by no means all the songs that Schumann wrote in that prolific period reflect that joy and the Kerner collection moves from positive beginnings to a much bleaker conclusion. Plumley says that during the performance preserved here “Roderick Williams’s jovial presence grew increasingly sad.”
The whole set is splendidly done but highlights for me included the sixth song, ‘Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes’. This song depicts the veering moods of a man taking refuge in the bottle and Williams encompasses all the different aspects of the song most convincingly. He’s tremendously expressive in the aching melancholy of ‘Stille Tränen’; yet for all the expressiveness he never sacrifices the line or purity of tone. This is a memorable performance. The last two songs are movingly done. In ‘Wer machte dich so krank?’ it’s as if resignation has drained the poet of emotion. Finally, in ‘Alte Laute’ Williams offers some exquisite quiet singing in a reading that’s engrossing and marvellously controlled. After a decent pause the Wigmore Hall audience is vociferous in its appreciation; and no wonder.

I’m conscious that I’ve said very little about the contribution of Helmut Deutsch. In his biography the list of singers with whom he has worked reads like a veritable Who’s Who of lieder singers, including such greats as Irmgard Seefried and Hermann Prey as well as such luminaries as Matthias Goerne and Jonas Kaufmann from the present generation. With such a pedigree you could expect him to be a splendid partner for Roderick Williams and so it proves.
Both the sound quality and documentation are very good. This is a marvellous, deeply satisfying lieder recital and we should be thankful that it’s been preserved on disc for a wide audience to savour.
John Quinn 

A marvellous, deeply satisfying lieder recital.