The Wigmore Hall’s series focusing on The Art of the Countertenor culminated with this superb recital by the singer whom many regard as the best in the field and on this occasion, he almost convinced me, too.
Like every other American singer, David Daniels really knows how to run a recital, and his brimful-of-confidence manner leaves no room for any doubts about choice of repertoire or accompanying instrument.
It’s daring enough to opt for a Brahms set to open the evening, but doubly so for a countertenor when the songs, such as ‘Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen’ are more usually sung by baritones, but Daniels and his accompanist Martin Katz made a powerful argument for the higher voice, the crucial final phrase ‘dein wahres’ as resonant as it needed to be, and the piano achieving some delicacy, although this was not always the case in many of the later works. ‘Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund‘ is the kind of folksy piece during which I often start calculating how much I owe the nanny for the evening, but here I was totally focused, mainly because Daniels sang it with a combination of directness and intensity which raised it to a whole new level, each repetition of ‘O du! O du! O du!’ failing entirely to elicit even a single squirm quite an achievement.
Daniels was naturally at his best in the arie antiche in the first half, and the Handel in the second. Peri’s ‘Giote al canto mio’ was about a minute of sheer bliss and dazzling vocal prowess, and Caccini’s ‘Amarilli mia bella’ was an object lesson in phrasing, colouration of tone and fervour of expressiveness. Handel’s ‘Cara sposa’ from Rinaldo was greeted with spontaneous applause, unsurprisingly since it was sung with melting beauty of tone, and ‘Perfido, di a quell’empio tiranno’ from Radamisto displayed Daniels’ facility with rapid coloratura and heroic nobility. One just wished that a harpsichord could have partnered it, despite Martin Katz’s valiant efforts.
It’s always refreshing to see Reynaldo Hahn on a programme, and Daniels has the right languour of tone for such songs as ‘A Chloris’ and ‘Paysage’, just as he is a natural for the English songs which closed the programme: despite a couple of glitches, ‘Linden Lea’ was finely sung with not a trace of ‘cow-pat’, and ‘It was a lover and his lass’ (Finzi) ended the programme with freshness and grace. The three encores were memorable, especially so in the dazzling decorations of Lotti’s ‘Pur dicesti’ and the romantic sweep of Strauss’ ‘Zueignung’ I think this was the first time I’ve heard a countertenor sing a Strauss orchestral piece in a recital, and it was fascinating all that sweeping romantic phrasing culminating in a ‘Habe Dank’ fit to have the fans laid out in the aisles.