An English Winter Journey… With Roderick Williams 

Roderick Williams is one of the U.K’s most experienced singers, and an artist I have come across frequently in recordings and at the BBC Proms. The opportunity to hear (and see, I stress) this wonderful character was not to be turned down, especially as the program was advertised to include a wide range of British songs and parts of Schubert’s Winterreise.

However, when Roderick bounced onto the stage of Middle Temple Hall with a beaming smile on the 5th of December, it was not immediately to sing. He had cleverly decided to introduce his program, and to point out that instead of including Schubert’s song cycle, he had instead based the entire program structurally on the composer’s work. The twenty four British songs, all with the theme of Winter, were matched by tempo, key or mood directly with Winterreise, and the great variety of songs in the programme by Vaughan Williams, Quilter, Gurney, Butterworth, and Parry to name but a few created much anticipation for the audience. 

This very personal introduction engaged listeners, so much so that when Roderick walked on again with accompanist Julius Drake, he was even better received. From the very first song by Vaughan Williams, it was clear this was a classy performer. The Baritone had faultless control over the audience, and was calm and collected throughout the evening. When Roderick wasn’t singing, he stayed in character and his slight movement around the small stage kept us interested. The programme joined the 1st to 12th songs together, and after the interval we heard the 13th to 24th. Roderick, a professional used to singing for long amounts of time in operas and vast ranges of choral works, had no trouble with singing for over an hour and a half with just one break.

Throughout the songs, Roderick used his personality and distinct musicality to tell the stories of each individual song. However, I got the impression that I was listening to a song cycle because he didn’t take himself out of character until the final note. His facial expressions could have told us everything, but the combination of this involvement in the music and his rich baritonal voice created a faultless performance. 

Roderick had complete control over his voice, and had the ability to be either powerful or delicate, pensive or in control. His wonderful choice of programme allowed him to show off these skills, and I believe he really was emotionally involved with the programming as he created great musical theatre throughout.

Due to the hall not being the vast size of, say the Albert Hall, Roderick was able to connect with every audience member, and I definitely felt that as he was looking around I was able to connect with him, and in turn his story. This was, of course, aided by his choice to perform the entire concert by memory, undoubtably helping to create an unforgettable performance.

The accompanist, Julius Drake, is in high demand and in coming seasons will be performing with Iestyn Davies, Simon Keenlyside, and Ian Bostridge. So, it was not at all surprising that his playing was extremely accurate and sensible. He shone out the lyrical melodies of the 20th century composers when necessary and hid behind the singer when his part was needed to be contained. And yet he added another level of brilliance to the sound of the duo.

To summarise, the evening was marvellous. Roderick’s tone, projection, and passion for his program was incredible, and along with a capable pianist created an unbeatable duo. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, and was fascinated by the choice of programme. For me, it was the baritone’s engagement with the audience that made the experience so inspirational.

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