Roderick Williams at Bromsgrove School

Routh Hall, Bromsgrove School *****

One hundred years since its founding, Birmingham Bach Choir returned to part of the ethos of its original Society roots by presenting a recital, no choir involved, as part of its centenary celebrations.
And what a recital this was, given by the BBC's new Patron, baritone Roderick Williams, accompanied by his long-time collaborator, pianist Susie Allan. Their programme was a simple one: Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte and Schubert's posthumous Schwanengesang.
The Beethoven is too often indulgently patted on the head as the first example of the song-cycle form. Here it was given an account which confirmed its stature as a masterpiece. Allan welded the accompaniment into a sturdy structure, Williams using all his communicative gifts (a voice which is nowadays climbing ever higher, eyes which engage the willing audience, an amazing clarity of diction) to convey all Beethoven's self-deluding idealism. His beloved would not be reciprocating his ardour, but the poet (in part Beethoven himself) poured out his heart in hope. Williams expressed all of this.
And then in the Schubert he and Allan discovered a multitude of expression. Susie Allan achieved wonders in the varied accompanying textures, from the guitar-like Standchen to the grimly monolithic Der Doppelganger.
In that same Lied Williams covered his tones chillingly, similar to his powerful railing in Der Atlas and the menace he brought to Die Stadt. He displayed an amazing messa di voce (gradually developing crescendo) at the end of In der Ferne, and his encore of An die Musik was an absolute, bedtime tucking-in joy.
Christopher Morley

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