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History Repeating

New York
Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall
12/15/2011 -  
Henry Purcell: Lord What is Man – In the Black Dismal Dungeon of Despair (arr. B. Britten) – Sweeter than Roses (arr. M. Tippett)
Traditional (arr. Nico Muhly): A Brisk Young Lad – Searching for Lambs – The Cruel Mother – The Bitter Withy
George Frideric Handel: Partenope: “Sento amor con novi dardi” and “Furibondo spira il vento”
Johann Sebastian Bach: Gedenke doch, mein Geist, zurücke – Kommt, Seelen, dieser Tag – Liebster Herr Jesu – Komm, süsser Tod – Bist du bei mir (arr. B. Britten)
Franz Schubert: Der Tod und das Mädchen, D. 531
Johannes Brahms: Alte Liebe, Op. 72, No. 1 – Unüberwindlich, Op. 72, No. 5
Peter Warlock: Bethlehem Down
Herbert Howells: O My Deir Hert
Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28, No. 4a: “That Yonge Child” – Folk Song Arrangements: “The Ash Grove” (Vol. 1, No. 6) and “Oliver Cromwell” (Vol. 1, No. 7)

Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Kevin Murphy (piano)

I. Davies (© Marco Borggreve)

What a season this has been and continues to be for the gifted British countertenor, Iestyn Davies. Well-known and justly celebrated in his native Britain, he first appeared in New York last year as Arsace in Handel’s Partenope. That production, staged at the New York City Opera, had originated at the ENO, where Davies had sung the role just two years earlier. This season has seen him make both his Metropolitan Opera debut in a production of Rodelinda, transmitted worldwide in HD. And also his eagerly anticipated New York recital debut in Carnegie’s intimate and elegant Weill Recital Hall.

Davies, who – improbably as it may sound – began his singing career as a bass, has a simply gorgeous voice, pure in tone but also rich in vocal color, with a sound much more full-bodied than one would expect from a countertenor. There is a luminosity, a glow. But he does not just fall back on his natural gifts. He is also an impeccable musician, with a technical mastery never displayed for its own sake. Rather, he uses it to convey an extraordinary range of expressive nuances. Davies is a supremely gifted storyteller. A born recitalist, he is clearly at ease on the concert platform, but also fiercely engaged and focused. His riveting stage presence and almost confessional, confiding manner make the essence of texts communicating despair simply heartbreaking.

His superb phrasing, mastery of dynamics and ability to color words allows him to be a teller of tales with both narrative force and stunning word painting. His voice also has great flexibility, with a top that opens wide and can seemingly without effort handle even the most fiercely demanding coloratura with brio and spot on intonation. And his diction is superb even while singing the most florid of vocal passages.

The design of the program was intriguing. It focused on reuse, reinterpretation and sometimes outright borrowing of music often composed in one style but metamorphosed into another. Just one example, which happens to be my favorite selection of the evening was Britten’s setting of “The Ash Grove,” which was based on an old Welsh song. Purcell began and ended the evening – first with arrangements of his songs by Britten and Tippett and finally, as the only encore, a splendid “Music for a While”. Also noteworthy was yet another world premiere by composer Nico Muhly, who seems to be here, there and everywhere in New York these days. His settings of traditional folk songs with minimal and musically eloquent means were unbearably poignant.

Davies has returned to the UK but for those living in the Chicago area, there will soon be a chance to experience his artistry. He makes his first Lyric Opera appearance on February 29th as Eustazio in Handel’s Rinaldo. And admirers everywhere can listen to his new Hyperion CD of six of Nicola Porpora’s twelve secular cantatas -- a luxuriously voiced and melodically rich vocal feast.

The website of Iestyn Davies

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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