Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20163 71:45 mins
Anyone fortunate enough to have heard Roderick Williams singing Der Winterreise in the concert hall guessed that something special was in the offing. And here is a recording at last, with Iain Burnside as an ever-attentive companion on this bleak journey, even if he is a little over solicitous at times.
Williams knows that he must map the whole emotional journey of the cycle, from the relentless tread of ‘Gute Nacht’ at the start to the nagging sound of the hurdy gurdy at the end; but equally he understands that each song is also a self-contained story that, step by step, contributes to the existential tragedy of a rejected lover.
What gives these songs their power is the Romantic notion that the world outside mirrors inner feelings. It’s there in ‘Auf dem Flusse’, ‘Die Krähe’ and ‘Irrlicht’ where Williams plunges into a rasping chest register and then despairingly stretches up to the top of the voice. Expressivity matters more than beauty of tone.
Williams also gives us the everyday world of the cycle: charcoal burners, dogs barking in a snowy village, a country inn and the postman, though Iain Burnside’s echoing horn calls would waken the dead. This exterior world deepens the meaning of the later songs: ‘Der Wegweiser’, for example, with the opening lines almost whispered and then a slide into falsetto that takes you completely by surprise. Where is the signpost that can guide our journey as time itself ticks on inexorably in the piano part?