Michael Chance, Director of The Grange Festival in Hampshire, devised this performance in the hope that it would encourage the pulses of those privileged to attend, to beat a little faster in preparation for the main event this coming Summer at the Grange. Many of us were already looking forward with eager anticipation to the Festival, which runs from June 6th-July 6th in the arcadian surrounds of the neo-classical mansion, and features no fewer than three new productions, of Le nozze di Figaro, Falstaff and Belshazzar. Is it the only major Summer Opera Festival to be thus innovative in 2019? Even if it were not, this is truly remarkable for a young festival in only its third year.
The evening was intended to present an inter-generational countertenor duet in the form of Chance father (Michael) and son (Alexander). Sadly, the elder Chance was unable to sing and was replaced at very short notice by Tim Morgan, who studies at the Royal College of Music and has already established himself as a notable exponent of the music of this period. Some of us heard part of this repertoire at the Wigmore Hall just a few days ago, and it is no exaggeration to say that the singing of these two very young artists was every bit as fine as that which we experienced there.
Accompanied with verve and sensitivity by Maggie Cole on the harpsichord, Lucia Capellaro on the Baroque ‘Cello and László Rózsa and Oonagh Lee on Recorders, the singers relished their friendly rivalry in a series of duets and solo pieces. Purcell’s duet Hark how the songsters got the evening off to a joyful start, these wonderfully fresh voices interweaving as though they had been singing together for years, and the first group closed with a mesmerizing account by Alexander Chance of the same composer’s O Solitude, my sweetest choice.
Tim Morgan followed with Pelham Humfrey’s solemn Hymn to God the Father, sung with immaculate diction, honeyed tone and confident phrasing. Honestly, countertenors really are like buses – you wait ages for one and then you get four superb ones within six days. That these two look young enough to be undergraduates and they already have stage confidence and style to spare, suggests that things look good for the future of this voice.
Purcell’s Strike the viol allowed Alexander to display the sensitivity of his voice, mellifluously accompanied by the recorders. Tim ‘countered’ this with an elegant, dulcet Music for a while, and the two met finally in friendly rivalry for Sound the Trumpet, that most familiar of all countertenor duets, the voices in blissful harmony or contesting each other as to who can produce the most daring flourishes.