The idea of a countertenor in songs by Mendelssohn and Schumann may seem odd, and even unrecognizable to the composers themselves. But first of all, check your prejudices: countertenor Iestyn Davies is fully idiomatic in the Purcell songs (as filtered through Britten), and only slightly less so in the neo-Elizabethan tunes of Roger Quilter, so one might just as easily complain about similar programs where a female contralto was used. Second, Davies neatly avoids the issues that have plagued the few countertenors who have ventured into music of the 19th century. He doesn't force his voice into places it doesn't want to go, instead relying mostly on the gentle, foghorn-like quality it has in its large sweet spot, and thus setting its timbre off from that of soprano Carolyn Sampson. You might say that, except for the solo pieces, Davies puts Sampson at center stage, but this would ignore the intelligence of his performance. Sampson, at any rate, has never sounded better. Getting your attention with an added octave ornament in Purcell's Sound the Trumpet (sample this unless you don't want to spoil the surprise), she plows through the program in fine style, as comfortable in the German repertory as in English. Creamy-voiced, humorous, and possessed by now of a good deal of interpretive depth, she has emerged as one of the major stars on the English vocal scene, specializing in but not restricted to Baroque repertory. With accompanist Joseph Middleton beautifully attuned to what's happening here, this is a delightful and offbeat vocal recital.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Three Duets, Op. 77|
|Three Duets, Op. 43|