Roderick Williams: French Song Recital

I have said before, and I will say again, that for concert series which have good price/quality ratio I know nothing better venue than the Wesley Centre in Harrogate. For £6 a seat for an hour at Monday lunchtimes, you get some of the best recitalists in the UK. How they can be attracted for a price like this remains a mystery, but it might have something to do both with the acoustics and the marvellous Yamaha piano. The latest offering was baritone Roderick Williams, who will next year become director of Leeds Lieder, with accompanist Michael Cleaver in a recital of French songs.

A hugely imaginative programme, steering well away from the familiar, ranged from late Fauré, through Debussy-like Caplet, Honegger’s short lessons on morality, and some witty,  almost nonsense Poulenc pieces, to Williams’ own impressive settings of Verlaine – how well he writes for his own voice as he waits and waits for the loved one to turn up. With immaculate phrasing, total command of the idiom, and – when called for – lingering legato vocalisation, the baritone captivated his audience. He also did a great job introducing the songs, but though I can understand the frustration singers sometimes feel when those listening have their heads in the text and translation, I was not prepared to heed his advice that it might be better to allow the language of the songs just to “wash over” me. No, Mr Williams, it is important that the audience understands what the songs are about.