Roderick Williams and Susie Allan review: The Great War and its legacy captured imaginatively in word and song Our Rating  ****   The Great War and the Armistice have been commemorated in numerous ways over the past year but few programmes can have been more imaginatively conceived than that of baritone Roderick Williams. The English late Romantics and their settings of the War Poets may have formed the nucleus of his sequence but there were fine examples too of songs by more recent composers including the Australian Todd McNeal, Ian Venables, the 91-year-old Elaine Hugh-Jones (teacher of Williams’s accompanist, the excellent Susie Allan) and Anthony Payne (in the audience). Nor did we languish in the trenches. Rather, the programme fell into eight sections, the first half tracing an arc from imperialistic jingoism and storm clouds, through to a variety of war experiences. The second half brought three composers, then three poets, lost in action, followed by survivors and the legacy.  The songs included the familiar, among them Finzi’s Channel Firing and Butterworth’s The Lads in their Hundreds but many that would have been unfamiliar to many (Martin Shaw’s Venizel, written by a soldier on active service at the front in the first weeks of the war), Ernest Farrar’s Silent Noon (with reminiscences of Vaughan Williams’s more celebrated setting) and three by John Ireland (The Cost, In Boyhood, The Soldier).    As the sequence unfolded, introduced by Williams section by section, we were somehow aware of the long shadow of the Great War pursuing us down the years. His eyes occasionally blazing with anger, at other times divulging a quizzical smile, he is the most engaging of performers. But the arching melodic lines and the tonal colouring of the texts had one hanging on every word. This was important because at the performers’ request no texts were printed in the programme, forcing us to respond to each poet’s and each composer’s flights of inspiration.  Curated by Eric Usadi, the Hampstead Arts Festival is now well established in the London calendar. This recital was one of several outstanding events on offer.  ” - Barry Millington

London Evening Standard

Songs of the Sea and Sky 1. Hush, the Waves The first movement deals with a mother and child waiting for their husband and father to return from the sea. The accompaniment imitates the waves of the ocean, providing beautiful counterpoint with the voices. At the close of this piece, the divisi in the voice parts creates a sense of longing for the father's return. 2. Flying Man The text for this movement was created around the time of the Wright Brothers' first flight. Constantly changing meters and brilliant, original text painting depict the glorious sense of flying. 3. To Brush the Cobwebs Off the Sky This amusing, expressive movement employs ascending stepwise scale passages to describe an old woman who magically brushes the imaginary cobwebs from "off the sky!” - Marie Stultz

The Choral Room at Spectrum Music

...Next were settings of three poems by Walter de la Mare, by Todd McNeal, a contemporary Australian composer.  ‘Five Eyes’ I knew in another composer’s setting, but this was a most effective one.  The boys sang it in a sturdy and clear manner, and conveyed a picture of cats capturing ‘the thieving rats’.  ‘Silver’ was once well-known to primary school pupils (maybe it still is): ‘Slowly silently, now the moon/Walks the night in her silver shoon’.  The setting had a serene, calm feeling, as did I, listening.  These boys know their music and words very well... These were...three skilful settings, sung well.” - Rosemary Collier

Middle C