Roderick Williams at Leamington Music Festival


Roderick Williams at the Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa *****
Wherever Roderick Williams appears he casts a spell, engaging the entire audience not only with his vocal artistry, but also his warmth of personality and his ability to engage us all with his eyes and with his expressive body-language.
His lunchtime recital as this year's hugely successful Leamington Music Festival gradually drew to its close, was such a heartwarming exposition of his gifts, value added by the baritone's wonderful accompanist. Williams has the happy knack of empathising with whomever is at the keyboard, and here, with pianist Paul Cibis (an artist new to me) he immediately established an easy natural rapport.
Williams engagingly explained the recital's title (and we could hear his every word, though some speakers have problems in this engulfing acoustic), how he loved performing young composers' music despite his own advancing years, and how the piecemeal structure of this programme reflected the concert-practice of the earlier part of the 19th century. This was fascinating stuff.
So we had a sequence interleaving excerpts from Schubert's Die Schone Mullerin, followed by songs from Schumann's Liederkreis and some wonderful hothouse offerings from the then student Rebecca Clarke. Williams stepped back when Cibis, always fluent and expressive in his accompaniments, stepped forward for eloquent excerpts from Schumann's Album for the Young.
Williams' remarkable shifting range of tones and colours was matched by his customary clarity of diction and rhythmic definition, and an amazing penetration into the significance of key words.
A subsequent melange of some of Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel with C.W.Orr's rippling Shropshire Lad settings also inspired the inclusion of a couple of Chopin Preludes from Cibis.
Between these two sequences Williams and Cibis did their best for To Gratiana, Dancing and Singing by the Leamington-born composer William Denis Browne, tragically killed in the Great War at the age of 27, a war which also claimed George Butterworth, whose Loveliest of Trees provided the haunting, perfect encore.
One spectre at this feast: why was catering in the Spa Centre's environs so sparse and grudging on a Bank Holiday lunchtime? You would have expected the Royal Pump Room's Larder café, with its enticing range of home-cooked goodies, to be open and throbbing with customers; but it wasn't.
Christopher Morley

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