REVIEW: Roderick Williams, Ripon Cathedral

Roderick Williams
Roderick Williams

Demand for tickets was so high that the organisers transferred the evening from its usual intimate venue of the chancel to the more open space of the nave.

The chancel is synonymous with Cathedral Society Concerts and so some might have concerns about acoustics and whether the performance might be lost in a space with so much aural resonance. There need have been no such worries. Low and high notes were warmed by the more generous acoustic of the nave. A screen behind the performers helped enormously.

Roderick Williams is peerless in his generation of singers. His instrument is full of quiet vibrant colour, so flexible and elastic that he seems to be unrestrained in communicating his art. It is Schubert that Roderick Williams gave us, unfettered by the performers but rather revealed with humility and joy.

A wonderful communicator and educator, Roderick Williams helped his audience in a typically characterful introduction. ‘What will happen (in these 24 songs) is almost nothing; the first song is abject misery and the next 23 are …a bject misery!’ We all laughed and by encouraging members of the audience to let the music do its work rather than study the translation line by line he gave us permission to relax.

It is Williams’ relaxed presence, totally lacking in ego, that reveals the music. He conveys quiet joy. The first song, Gute Nacht leads us in to a journey between life and death not for this singer with pained angst but with gentleness and pin-point accuracy of intonation. The first three syllables beginning on a top f in a descending scale exquisitely sung, following the quietest piano introduction to this piece I have heard.

Iain Burnside is one of this generation’s outstanding piano accompanists. You could hear this throughout the performance, Roderick Williams and Julius Drake each echoing nuance of phrase and colour, one leading, one following, a partnership of listening and journeying. I came away knowing that I had been in the presence of beauty and joy.