‘Woman’s Hour”, the title that Roderick Williams had given to his lunchtime recital with the pianist Joseph Middleton, was only slightly tongue in cheek. It was an accurate enough description of the baritone’s recital, for Williams had put together a programme of songs by Schubert, Brahms and the Schumanns, all of which either had women as a protagonist, or were expressions of a woman’s viewpoint.
As he made clear in a brief explanation, Williams rejects gender divisions in the Lieder repertoire. He pointed out that the first performance of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben, the cycle with which he ended, and which nowadays is usually thought of as a work for a woman’s voice, was given by a man, and he sees no reason why men should not sing it, any more than a woman should not tackle Dichterliebe or Winterreise.
Certainly with his immaculate diction and carefully nuanced phrasing, Williams made the best possible male-voice case for the Schumann. Though one song had to be restarted, it hardly broke the cycle’s smooth emotional curve, while Middleton relished the piano postludes that amplify the expressive implications of each song.
They began with a Schubert group, of which two songs, Gretchen am Spinnrade and Der Tod und das Mädchen are familiar, while Die junge Nonne is just as beautiful if less well known. Everything was done with a light touch; Clara Schumann’s Liebst du um Schönheit interrupted the Brahms sequence, and as an encore they added more Brahms, the exquisite little Sapphische Ode from the Op 94 set, which as a young singer Williams had been prevented from singing in a competition because, he was told, it was a “woman’s song”.
• Available on BBC Sounds and Wigmore Hall Live Stream. The Wigmore Hall lunchtime series continues on BBC Radio 3 until 26 June.