By John Rushby-Smith

It would be difficult to imagine a better song recital than that given in Shire Hall by the renowned baritone Roderick Williams. Suavely good-looking and brilliantly accompanied by Susie Allan, he presented his programme of English song with such warmth and charm and depth of understanding that he held the audience spellbound.

The recital began with Vaughan Williams’s setting of three meditative poems by Walt Whitman. Each accompanied by a reiterated “ground bass”, they are concerned with the immortality of the human soul. Then came John Ireland’s beautifully written Songs of a Wayfarer that let Roderick Williams take us on an joyous journey through quintessentially English countryside. A set of five songs by Martin Shaw came next. Beginning with Venizel – one of his stirring Songs of War – and ending with Old Clothes and Fine Clothes – a rollickingly cynical summation of human pretensions – they all had a directness that spoke of Shaw’s reputation as a composer of some excellent hymn tunes.

After the interval we returned to Vaughan Williams. The master’s Songs of Travel are perhaps among the best loved and best known of all English art-songs, and never have they been better sung than they were here. In introducing them, Roderick Williams wisely suggested that instead of following the texts in their programmes the audience should look at him while they listened. Result? One understood every single word, the printed texts became redundant and Mr Williams was able to work his magic upon every rapt pair of ears and eyes.