Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

LEAMINGTON MUSIC'S WONDERFUL ENGLISH SONG RECITAL

RODERICK WILLIAMS AND SUSIE ALLAN
King's High School, Warwick *****

Leamington Music's first-ever concert in the magnificent new King's Hall of Warwick's King's High School was a triumphant success. It could not have been anything else, bringing the legendary and empathetic partnership of baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Susie Allan to a hugely enthusiastic audience, swelled by generous sponsors Wright Hassall.
Under the title "The Great Outdoors…" the programme brought together pastoral and maritime songs by six English masters of the craft, all of them actually contemporaneous with each other – though Benjamin Britten only just scraped in three years before George Butterworth's death at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Butterworth's heartbreaking Six Songs from a Shropshire Lad allowed the performers to set out their stall as they meant to continue, Williams floating tenor-like head notes with fluid phrasing at the opening of "Loveliest of Trees", Allan drawing almost orchestral colourings from her piano. Williams' characterising of two tones in the concluding "Is my team ploughing?", one plaintive, the other rough and bluff, was mesmerising and in fact chilling to the soul.
And so the recital's pattern was set, through groups of songs by John Ireland, Peter Warlock and Ivor Gurney, Williams engaging the audience with both sweeping eyes and body-language now static and serene, now exuberantly all-embracing, and always superbly timed in an almost telepathic relationship with the remarkable Allan.
Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel provided the meatiest fare of the evening, compellingly delivered. Allan's response at the piano was fully alert to the music's varying stylistic demands, and Williams marshalled his resources in a marvel of communication.
But what is earworming me as I write are the concluding four Folksong arrangements by Benjamin Britten, Allan's deftness in the sliding tonalities of The Ash Grove laudable, the poignancy from both performers in The Salley Gardens quietly gripping, Williams' body-language and timbre in The Ploughboy utterly theatrical.
But what did it for me was Williams' amazing delivery of The Foggy, Foggy Dew, humorous and knowing, yes, but with so much aching tenderness just beneath the surface.
Christopher Morley

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