Roderick Williams: the best recordings
Top British baritone Roderick Williams talks about his favourite recordings
Roderick Williams on... his finest moment
Martin In terra pax
Roderick Williams (baritone) et al; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Matthias Bamert
Chandos CHAN9465 (1996)
There was a mix-up with the dates for the original baritone that was booked for this recording, and so I stepped in at the last minute. It was literally a day or two before the session that I got the call. I didn’t know much Frank Martin but, having been a choral scholar, I had a background in sight reading, so I thought it was something I could do. I just found the music really exciting; it’s a really austere soundworld.
There wasn’t time for anybody to do any French coaching with me, so I went in with my best O-Level French! There might have been a coach in the recording session to help me, but everything else was done on wits and nerves. If I could reverse-engineer my career, I’d persuade myself to take my languages to A-Level and beyond but I had no idea at that point that I was going to have a career as a singer.
The situation was quite tense, but actually in those moments, unless you do a bad job, everybody is just so grateful that you’re there to rescue the ship that they cut you a lot of slack. I was singing with Della Jones and Martyn Hill, who are my seniors and betters, so I ran with the ball and had a really great time.
Roderick Williams on... his favourite memory
Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel
Roderick Williams (baritone); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
Dutton Epoch CDLX7359 (2019)
This is a piece I know very well, so I was looking forward to the sessions. I flew to Edinburgh and planned to hire a car and drive to Dundee. But it was the day after one of those storms that’s got someone’s name – Storm Kevin, or something – and trees had been uprooted in Dundee, so it had been pretty bad.
It was pandemonium in the airport; the queue was long and I saw the time peeling away. I realised I wasn’t going to get my hire car, so I got a taxi instead and arrived late in an absolute state. Everyone calmed me down, however, and we did my sessions. The orchestra was wonderful and the Caird Hall acoustics made me sound great.
The piano version of the penultimate song, ‘Bright is the Ring of Words’, is in C, so when the orchestra put down this huge chord of D major it was a bit of a surprise. You can’t ask 80 musicians to transpose down a tone, so I girded my loins and sang it in D.
Roderick Williams on... what he would like to have another go at
Roderick Williams (baritone),
Iain Burnside (piano)
Chandos CHAN20163 (2020)
I think anyone who records feels privileged and flattered to be asked to do it. But there’s also a feeling that you are putting your thoughts down for the end of all time. So anybody who puts on my recording of Schubert might be fooled into thinking this is how I believe Schubert’s Winterreise should go. I’ve sort of gone off that as an idea; I now believe that it’s more a case of ‘this is how I was singing Schubert with Iain Burnside during that recording session in June of last year’. Possibly the next day, Iain and I might perform and indeed record Winterreise quite differently. And the day after that I might perform it with a different pianist and record it wholly differently again.
There’s that age-old argument about recording jazz; you think by preserving it, you’re already limiting your choices. The thing I love about performing the three Schubert song cycles – but Winterreise more than any of them – is the differences I notice along the way. I love that about the piece and that’s why I’d like to return to it again, perhaps at ten-year intervals.
Roderick Williams’s new release ‘Das Mädchen spricht’ from SOMM Recordings is out now
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.