Since emerging from the Guildhall School of Music in the early 1990s, Roderick Williams has enjoyed a steady and critically acclaimed career. A reluctant celebrity who prefers to sing in the UK for the sake of his family, he has formed close associations with Scottish Opera, Opera North and English National Opera as well as gaining plaudits for his recitals and performances with some of the country's most popular orchestras. In 2009 he was referred to as 'Britain's best baritone' by 'Opera' magazine, and despite his enjoyment of relative anonymity and a seeming resistance to developing an international career, the label has led to an increased interest in his voice and he is currently touring 'Life Affirming Music', a recital exploring German lieder.

Accompanied by pianist Andrew West, Williams brought his 'Life Affirming Music' to Opera North's Howard Assembly Rooms on Friday. The programme featured a series of lieder by Austrian composer Hugo Wolf, 'Songs of Farewell' by the film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Mahler's 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' and Schumann's wonderful 'Kerner Lieder.' Williams has chosen 'Kerner Lieder' rather than the more popular song cycles due to a desire to explore something less well-known, and has also opted to turn the chronology of the music on its head. By opening the recital with the later composers, he hopes to show, by the time he reaches the 'Kerner Lieder', what inspiration Wolf, Korngold and Mahler had taken from Schumann's definitive works.

He began with six lieder by Wolf, which focussed on themes of love, death and faith. Simple and beautiful, the pieces were the perfect vehicle for Williams' smooth, pure voice to adjust to the intimate venue, and were a great introduction to an evening of songs which developed gradually in emotion and power. He followed Wolf with Korngold's lush, romantic 'Songs of Farewell' which brought to mind the vocal music of Richard Strauss with their lyrical phrasing and melancholic air. They gave Williams the opportunity to showcase his astonishing ability to perform highly emotional music, and he swooped easily from the top of his vocal range (where he was clear as a bell and his diction impeccable) to rich, low notes that stirred the heart. A highlight was 'Moon, thus you rise again' which was so enthralling and evocative that I drifted off, unaware that the song had finished and a new one begun.

Mahler's 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' quickly broke the sombre, reflective ambiance. A long way from the composer's devastating 'Kindertotenlieder' (a popular choice for baritones), these were upbeat, highly comedic pieces with march-like beats. Williams rose to the challenge of the quick change in mood- his eyes twinkled and that perfect diction emphasised the funny side of songs about badly behaved youngsters and soldiers nonchalantly leaving their lovers. Now, there was not only clarity, purity and depth- there was an unbelievable power. His projection is so incredible that for a long time after the performance had ended, his voice rang in my ears.

After a short interval, Williams and West returned for the 'Kerner Lieder'. From the very beginning of the Schumann performance, it was clear that the non-chronological programming had worked to great effect, for all of the elements displayed earlier in the pieces by Wolf, Korngold and Mahler were at work in these twelve songs. Here was love, loss, hope and praise, each piece a wonderful vehicle for all the aspects of Williams' voice that no doubt led to that 'Britain's best baritone' label. There were opportunities to display great lyricism and profound depths, to showcase amazing vocal power and projection and to use that wonderful diction and interpretive ability to convey the most poetic elements of each song. We were transported through forests, pastoral landscapes and cathedrals, contemplating romance, friendship and philosophical questions along the way. As Williams and West left the small stage for the final time, it struck me that when faced with just a voice and a piano in an intimate location, this is exactly what you're hoping will happen, and Williams didn't disappoint.