Roderick Williams baritone
Susie Allan piano

SOMM 0683

It seems that Roderick Williams is never out of the recording studio, but this disc is more special as he has conceived it both as a CD and as a complete recital.

He explains in the excellent booklet notes (also with full texts) that Finzi’s Let us Garland’s Bring, composed for VW’s 70th birthday, gave him the idea of assembling a collection of songs by VW and fifteen other composers associated with him or influenced by him at some point in his long career.

Amongst English composers, Finzi, Rebecca Clarke, Holst and Stanford are no surprise, it is a pity that Rubbra is not included, as he wrote a wonderful orchestral ‘Tribute’ to VW’ for the same 70th birthday celebrations. Of foreign composers one finds Ravel (Chanson écossaise) and Max Bruch (O saw ye my father) with both of whom he studied, the former to gain, he said, ‘some French polish’. However, it is rather entertaining to find those two setting poems in the Scots dialect.

As Williams points out, VW helped a number of female pupils, and several have been included. Ina Boyle was Irish (The Last Invocation), and the cousin of Charles Wood (also represented), Elizabeth Maconchy (The Wind and the Rain) studied under VW and Wood. Madeleine Dring (Take, o take those lips away) studied with Howells and VW. There is a winning photograph of Howells and VW together. Ruth Gipps (The Pulley) who was considered a child prodigy, also went to the RCM and studied with VW.

It is not surprising therefore that the main work on the disc is a cycle of five songs by a very young woman, Sarah Cattley (b.1995) entitled A Square and Candle-lighted boat. The texts, inspired by the East Anglian countryside and coastline, are by Frances Cornford who was a relation of VW. The mood is predominantly reflective and the tempo slow. Williams has performed the work several times, and not only is he in such wonderful form for the composer (as he is throughout the disc) but the magical touch of pianist Susie Allan enhances the atmosphere of these beautiful settings.

Roderick Williams characterises the songs where needed, and his warm, lyrical tone is ideal for this repertoire. I especially like the conversational way he portrays the man and the milkmaid in Butterworth’s Roving in the Dew, complemented by such an understanding accompanist.

But it is the eight songs of VW himself which stand clear, one of them, a late setting of Ursula Vaughan Williams, is an enticing poem called Menelaus. And this contributes to a fascinating recital, one not to be missed.

Review by Gary Higginson