Iestyn Davies / Ensemble Guadagni

Handel: Nine German Arias

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AllMusic Review by

The last decade of the 20th and the first decade of the 21st centuries have produced an array of astonishingly gifted countertenors who continue to set new standards of excellence and reveal possibilities for male singers performing in the traditional range of women who haven't been heard since the days of the castrati. Iestyn Davies doesn't have the spectacular instrument of some of the most dazzling countertenors of his generation but in his more modest way, he is no less impressive. His voice is pure, without a trace of the hollow hootiness that was once characteristic so many countertenors, and is absolutely secure and full from the bottom to the top of his range. While he may not have demonstrated the agility for the most florid coloratura music of the Baroque, he brings an impeccably intelligent and emotionally honest musicality to his performances, and his singing is wonderfully refined and confident. His versatility stretches from music of the Renaissance to the 21st century, but in his first solo recording he focuses on a narrow spectrum: English and German songs from the middle Baroque (the late 17th and early 18th centuries). This live Wigmore Hall recital is not the best program to showcase the versatility of Davies' voice because slow, frequently mournful music tends to predominate, but for listeners who can settle into the relative homogeneity of the recital, there is much to savor here. Davies has a special affinity for Purcell, which he delivers with absolute control and deep feeling. The Alleluias of "Now that the sun has veiled his light" are sublimely radiant and bring the recital to a gorgeous close. The notes describe the Handel songs, written between 1724 and 1727, as "the closest thing we have to a Baroque song cycle," and it is an expressive and musically subtle set that deserves wider attention. Ensemble Guadagni provides a lively and beautifully realized accompaniment. Gamba player Jonathan Manson is practically an equal partner with Davies on many of the tracks. The sound is lively and clear, with minimal ambient noise.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 8:46
2 5:54
3 3:42
4 3:30
5 6:47
6 5:03
7 5:28
8 7:02
9 5:23
10 4:47
11 5:45
12 3:41
13 5:48
14 0:10
15 4:51
blue highlight denotes track pick