Arias – from Belshazzar, The Triumph of Time and Truth, Esther, Alexander Balus, Birthday Ode for Queen Anne, Solomon, Semele, The Choice of Hercules, Jephtha, Israel in Egypt [All sung in English]
Jephtha – Overture
Samson – Overture
Iestyn Davies (countertenor) with Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
The King’s Consort
Recorded 6-8 September 2013 at The Menuhin Hall, Stoke D’Abernon, Cobham, Surrey, UK
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: February 2014
CD No: VIVAT 105
Duration: 67 minutes
Handel’s arias for soprano, countertenor and bass have frequently been explored in recorded compilations, but here Iestyn Davies and the King’s Consort (using authentic instruments) have scrutinised his writing for the alto voice. Davies brings his mellifluous and steady tone to the varied registers called for within this vocal palette. He ranges from the crisp delivery of a high-pitched number such as ‘Yet can I hear’ (The Choice of Hercules), through the mellowness of the medium register of ‘Thou shalt bring them in’ (Israel in Egypt), to the lower darker tone of ‘Tune your harps’ (Esther).
Davies’s voice is ideally matched and balanced with Carolyn Sampson’s in two duets (from Esther and Solomon), their lines well integrated within the accompaniments led by Robert King. The latter transmits a gentle but palpable lilt to the extracts in triple time, for instance ‘Mortals think’ from The Triumph of Time and Truth wherein Davies responds with a yearning quality to his phrases which often start languidly on the second beat of the bar. The Overtures to Jephtha and to Samson serve as instrumental interludes. The latter is stately, the triplet figures elegantly turned, and the two horns almost always precise and in tune.
Technically no individual performance can be faulted, and Davies’s admirers will not be disappointed. However, despite that finesse, his approach becomes somewhat unvaried and his vocal manner almost precious and rarefied. Sometimes a more robust response would be welcome, as in the triumphal ‘Mighty love now calls to arm’ with obbligato trumpet (from Alexander Balus), or a little more ecstasy in ‘How can I stay when love invites’ (Esther). Or how much more golden lustre there is in James Bowman’s rendition of ‘Eternal source of light divine’ on Hyperion with the same ensemble, and Crispin Steele-Perkins also on the trumpet, as here. Also Davies’s melodies often lack direction so that no clear climax is felt.
There is much on this disc that is beautiful and refined but not, in the last resort, as ravishing as one might wish from Handel’s music. The booklet includes each aria’s text.