Roderick Williams & Andrew West at Milton Court – Frauenliebe und -leben

“A woman’s life and love? For Milton Court Artist-in-Residence Roderick Williams, Schumann’s great song cycle opens up some remarkably modern perspectives on identity and the human heart. ‘The joy is the love, the love is the joy’ declares the (supposedly) female narrator of Frauenliebe und -leben. ‘I have said it, and won’t take it back!’ And since human emotion acknowledges no gender, Williams has assembled an entire recital that explores the limitlessly fluid ways in which two souls can merge. It’s an inspired idea for a song recital: since every song is itself an encounter of words and music, singer and pianist – each enriched by the other. Brahms is a natural complement to Schumann, but songs by Sally Beamish, Herbert Howells and Rhian Samuel all offer an utterly distinctive perspective. For Roderick Williams, though, it’s simply about communication: I’d love audiences to think what an amazing juxtaposition of music and poetry this is.” [Barbican Centre website]

Programme included:
Sally Beamish
Four Songs from Hafez
Rhian Samuel
Summer Songs*
Frauenliebe und -leben Op.42

“*Unfortunately the premiere of Ryan Wigglesworth’s new work has had to be postponed. Roderick Williams will instead be performing Rhian Samuel’s Summer Songs.” [Barbican Centre website]

Roderick Williams (baritone) & Andrew West (piano)

Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran

Reviewed: 26 February, 2019
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, London

Roderick Williams and Andrew West offered an eclectic and thought-provoking programme including Robert Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben (A woman’s love and life) imagined by a male composer and a male poet, Adalbert von Chamisso. The performers posed many questions as they investigated the role of women as subject, object and composers of song, including Clara Schumann (Robert’s wife), Sally Beamish and Rhian Samuel.

Roderick WilliamsPhotograph: www.grovesartists.comThemes of love, tortured and flirtatious, dominated the opening selection by Brahms, of which Williams gave a wonderfully natural and direct interpretation. The narrative of each piece was deeply persuasive and theatrically engaging, West’s accompaniments detailed and sparkling; in Mädchenlied the spinning-wheel purred into life. Clara Schumann’s setting of Rückert’s Liebst du um Schönheit matches the verse in wit and ardour, and with unusual emotional freedom for 1841, the descriptive piano coda as thoughtful and imaginative as anything by Robert.

Three late miniatures by Brahms followed: snapshots of the Swallow, Salamander and the Nightingale, replete with longing, lust and sadness. The mood expanded and darkened for Herbert Howells’s masterpiece King David, in which Williams’s vocal line wove around the gorgeous chords and arpeggios mimicking the sound of ancient harps. Sally Beamish’s Four Songs from Hafez introduced exquisite exoticism. Landscapes of roses and peacocks combined with glimpses of the beloved is conveyed in touching descending figures, as the lover’s hair comes loose and tumbles down. The invocation of the Hoopoe is voiced plaintively in the final number.

Rhian Samuel’s Summer Songs are close-textured and chromatic evocations of night and a dragonfly in the sun. These vivid settings brought tonal freshness before Frauenliebe und -leben, performed unusually by a male singer. Williams’s sweet phrasing and expressive power was entirely convincing and West’s contribution nuanced, crisp and dream-like by turns. Williams and West certainly made a strong argument for this experiment, communicating the deepest and most profound of emotions through sincerity, skill and openheartedness.

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