Wigmore Hall Live – Roderick Williams & Helmut Deutsch perform Lieder by Wolf, Korngold, Mahler and Schumann

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Italienisches Liederbuch – Selections: Gesegnet sei, durch den die Welt entstund; Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett; Geselle, wolln wir uns in Kutten hüllen; Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen; Sterb’ ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder; Ein Ständchen euch zu bringen kam ich her
Vier Lieder des Abschieds, Op.14
Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen; ErinnerungIch ging mit Lust; Aus! Aus!
Zwölf Gedichte von Justinus Kerner, Op.35

Roderick Williams (baritone) & Helmut Deutsch (piano)

Recorded 25 February 2011 at Wigmore Hall, London

Reviewed by: Tully Potter

Reviewed: October 2012
Duration: 71 minutes



On this disc you get the whole programme from Roderick Williams’s Wigmore Hall recital, in which he was joined by the distinguished Viennese pianist Helmut Deutsch, once strongly associated with another famous baritone, Hermann Prey. My pleasure increased as I listened, because both the singing and the repertoire improved.

The problem of recording a vocal recital live is that the singer may not be in his or her best voice to start with, and so it is here. I find it very hard to pitch Williams’s fourth note in the first Hugo Wolf song, on the word “sei”. His lower register is not the best part of his voice; and in the first Korngold song, the word “ab” in the opening stanza is almost a croak, similarly the word “tagt” in the third stanza. But these aberrations apart, the first two Wolf songs are very lyrically sung, and the third is well characterised – though I always wonder why the composer did not set such material in its original Italian. ‘Und willst du’ is nicely done, though the thought persists that one would like a firmer, keener focus. ‘Sterb ich’ is beautifully quiet and the final song of the group, ‘Ein Ständchen’, has good rhythm from both artists and a wry satirical attitude from Williams.

In general, Korngold with his difficult intervals rather exposes Williams’s weakness in the lower register. The first song, ‘Requiem’, sets Alfred Kerr’s somewhat cack-handed translation of Christina Rossetti; and it seems strange to have Richard Stokes’s equally unsatisfactory re-translation in the booklet, rather than the lovely, simple original poem. The best singing comes in the fourth song, ‘Gefasster Abschied’, which allows Williams to explore his lyrical vein. Korngold takes liberties with Ernst Lothar’s text, bringing back the opening words “Weine nicht” at the end, but it works quite well. Deutsch is in his element in these songs, as in the Wolf selection.

I imagine the interval fell at this point, for Williams’s voice sounds altogether firmer and freer in the Mahler group, which begins with one of his infantile efforts (Mahler, like Elgar, did not have the best taste in poetry and I wish someone had stolen his copy of Des Knaben Wunderhorn before he became fixated on it). Anyway, the piece is well characterised and Deutsch’s playing is marvellous. ‘Erinnerung’ is very well sung and the opening lines of ‘Ich ging mit Lust’ show how much better the voice is now working – the song is splendidly done.

Schumann’s 12 settings of Justinus Kerner tend to be recorded by singers who have already done the more-popular cycles; the Kerner-Lieder are of excellent quality and far above the preceding items in the recital. Singer and pianist give good impetus to the poet’s expression of joy on a stormy night, getting the cycle off to a fine start. The song about the poet’s beloved becoming a nun is very well judged by Williams, who sings beautifully, getting the girl’s tone of voice just right and avoiding sentimentality. The musicians step out manfully in ‘Wanderlied’ and the next two songs bring lovely lyrical singing. Williams finds a good declamatory style for the sixth song, which can seem a little pompous; and he and Deutsch venture forth briskly in ‘Wanderung’. He finds a nice lyrical response to the next song; and the following two are beautifully sung: in ‘Stille Tränen’, Williams sustains both the phrases and the intensity masterfully. The last two settings are given with great skill and artistry: Williams finds an ideal simplicity for the bare statements of “Wer machte dich so krank?” and the piece is all the more moving for it. Deutsch introduces the final song, ‘Alte Laute’, with equal simplicity and Williams delivers the text in hushed tones.

This release is recommended especially for the Schumann. Recording quality is first rate. In a way, this critique is rendered redundant by the booklet-note’s annotator. He reviews the recital in a manner which suggests that he thinks he is a better writer than he is (“weaved” for ‘woven’ – I ask you!) and he has a fine line in pretension. But if you stick to the included song texts, you will not go far wrong.

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