David Daniels – Serenade

Quite aside from David Daniels’s pre-eminence as a Handel singer, he could also be credited with treading where few countertenors dare to go. In this mixed recital he adds to the more usual countertenor repertoire of seventeenth and eighteenth century song, Lieder by Beethoven and Schubert, French chanson by Gounod and Poulenc and English song by Vaughan Williams. Other recitals will see him venturing out into American song and Broadway, and he even made a recording of Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Eté. He has never been one to cofine himself to the usual areas of countertenor repertory.

To all he brings great beauty of voice, a superb legato and a fullness of tone rare in countertenors, and an innate musicality. This fullness of tone is not a mere fabrication of the gramophone as I saw him live on many occasions and can attest that the voice rang out freely in all the venues I heard him. In addition he has a winning personality with a rare gift of communication, which comes across in all his discs.

Many of the songs here are concerned with night (the disc, after all is called Serenade) and the pervading atmosphere is therefore one of quiet reflection, but gaiety puts in an appearance too, and we note the singers facility in fast moving music, without a hint of an aspirate. We also note how the singer’s expression changes from one song to another, making us feel we can see as well as hear.

We start with a group of Lieder framed by Beethoven’s and Schubert’s setting of Adelaide, both beautifully sung. He gives the girl’s voice a suitable urgency and death a darker more consolatory tone in Der Tod und das Mädchen, but the prize of this group is his wonderful performance of Nacht und Träume, his legato impeccable , the long line firmly held. This is beautifully ccomplished singing and absolutely no allowances need to be made for the limitations of the countertenor voice.

From here we move to a group of songs by Caldara, Gluck, Cesti and Lotti, the more usual repertoire for this type of voice. Caldara’s Selve amiche soothes the soul, whilst Lotti’s Pur dicesti, o bocca bella is irresistibly light and charming. The Gounod and Poulenc items are all superb, the Vaughan Williams beautifully characterised, finishing with a movingly heartfelt Hands, eyes and heart.

The final items bring us back to more familiar countertenor territory, with joyful performances of Sweeter than roses and I’ll sail upon the Dog Star, followed by an eloquently comforting Evening Hymn, which brings to a close an eminently satisfying recital. Martin Katz is throughout a worthy partner.

As I said earlier, I saw Daniels live on many occasion, and this recital replicates to perfection what it was like to hear him in the concert hall. There was never any difficulty hearing him and he had the rare ability of drawing the audience in, of making each person feel he was singing just for them.

Barbara Bonney – Fairest Isle

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“Come again, sweet love doth now invite,” sings Barbara Bonney at the beginning of this recital, and the invitation is so beguiling that it would be hard to resist.

What follows is just over an hour of pure delight. We start with a selection of lute songs by Dowland, Campion, Morley and Byrd, all accompanied by Jacob Heringman. Bonney’s pure tone and natural, unaffected manner might suggest a lack of personality and yet she has something personal to say about each song, with a lovely smile in the voice for the quirky Away with these self-loving lads, and a deeper vein of melancholy for the famous Flow my tears which in turn is followed by a delightfully charming It was a lover and his lass.

She is joined by the viol quartet Phantasm for Byrd’s O Lord, how vain are all our frail delights, who also provide an instrumental interlude between this and the other Byrd piece Though Amaryllis dance in green with John Jenkins’s Fantasy no 3.

More variety is accorded when, for the Purcell items, Bonney is accompanied by The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood, with Andrew Manze suppling violin obligato in the lovely Plaint from The Fairy Queen, which preceded by couple of instrumental items here (two Airs from Abdelazar) is not taken too slowly for once.

Fairest Isle, both the song and the disc it gives its name to, might possibly be considered a tribute by this American soprano to the land she has made her home, and she finishes with one of the most well known English arias in the repertoire, Dido’s wonderful Lament from Dido and Aeneas. It is perhaps not so powerfully intense as versions by Dame Janet Baker and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in their complete sets, but, taken out of context, it makes a fitting conclusion to a recital that affords nothing but pleasure.