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Birdsong

Roderick Williams (baritone), Andrew West (piano) (SOMM)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
SOMMCD0633_Lieder

Birdsong
Sally Beamish: Songs from Hafez; R Schumann: Frauenliebe und -leben; plus songs by Brahms and C Schumann
Roderick Williams (baritone), Andrew West (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0633   59:21 mins

Hot on the heels of Joyce DiDonato’s Schubert Winterreise sung as if from a woman’s point of view, baritone Roderick Williams weighs in on behalf of Schumann’s idealistic portrait of female love and longing: Frauenliebe und -leben. It sets the seal on a disc pondering gender issues that resonate with the singer (and which he expounds in the liner notes). But that shouldn’t deter those interested solely in engaging with a delectable programme, eloquently sung. And if Sally Beamish is something of an interloper in a recital orbiting the triangulated threesome of the Schumanns Robert and Clara plus Brahms, she’s an inspired addition as her Four Songs from Hafez amplify the disc’s themes and match the Sufi poet’s erotic charge with settings of abiding sensuality and yearning.

In the event, Frauenliebe is something of a mixed bag. Rather than living each step of the journey, it’s as if Williams is recollecting a journey already completed (why not?); but the sense of ‘waking dream’ envisaged in the first song slightly eludes him; and the uplift of newly-awakened love is intermittent in what follows. The anguished farewell of ‘Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’, however, is powerfully haunting. Elsewhere nightingales abound. In Brahms’s ‘An die Nachtigall’, singer and pianist are perfectly poised as Schubertian lyricism yields to something ripely Brahmsian; and in Sally Beamish’s ‘Nightingale’, Andrew West’s luminous, chirruping right hand joyously counterpoints Williams’s effortlessly spun line. Other standouts include more Brahms: a richly-perfumed Sapphische Ode, and an enrapt account of the song that reduced Clara Schumann to tears: Von ewiger Liebe.

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Paul Riley