Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Iestyn Davies / Elizabeth Kenny @ Wigmore Hall, London (online)

22 June 2020

Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall (Photo: Kaupo Kikkas)

This is the last week of Wigmore Hall’s live concerts via the internet. Melanie Eskenazi continues to be delighted.

The countertenor Iestyn Davies spoke for all the artists who were participating in the Wigmore Hall’s superb series of lunchtime lockdown recitals, when he pleaded with the watching and listening audience to “come back in droves” when all is back to “normal.” As he said, the audience for these concerts greatly exceeds the numbers that can be accommodated in the hall, so we can assume that the series has introduced many more music lovers to the delights of this intimate space and the calibre of the artists who line up to perform here.

Early music in the shape of the sublime works of Purcell, Dowland and Campion was the focus here, finally touching upon Mozart and Schubert in a very neat comparative twist. Purcell’s Come Ye Sons of Art of 1694, one of his Odes on the Birthday of Queen Mary, was a fitting introduction, with the fourth song ‘Strike the Viol’ a natural invitation to pay attention to what was to come. The combination of the countertenor voice and the lute is a very special one, the sweetness of one melding with the astringency of the other, and Davies and Elizabeth Kenny blended exquisitely here. ‘Lord, what is Man’ (A Divine Hymn) is Purcell at his most expressive and inventive – Davies sang this challenging music as if the thoughts expressed were just occurring to him, which is surely what the composer intended.

Kenny’s arrangements of three of Purcell’s short pieces displayed the agility and versatility of the lute in such expert hands – ‘Sefauchi’s Farewell,’ commemorating the death of a castrato singer known to the composer, was as serene and melancholy as ‘Rigadoon’ was sprightly.

‘Behold a Wonder here’ and ‘Sorrow, Stay’ gave full rein to Dowland’s ‘ever sad’ emotions, and in complete contrast Campion’s ‘I care not for these ladies’ was perhaps closer to Alfred Deller’s somewhat coy interpretation than the more lascivious version by Andreas Scholl. Davies’ superb diction and natural verbal inflection were a joy to hear.

“…the audience for these concerts greatly exceeds the numbers that can be accommodated in the hall…”

Mozart’s ‘Abendempfindung’ was not as much of a change in style as one might have expected from the passing of almost a century – but that was perhaps the desired effect, since it was possible to link both the sentiments and the musical style here directly to Purcell’s ‘evening’ music. It was sung with exquisite mastery of tone and played with more expressive power than one is accustomed to hearing from the guitar. Schubert’s ‘Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen’ was a wonderful conclusion to the recital proper; this difficult song, perhaps known to many of us via Fischer-Dieskau, expresses the idea that all souls should find peace. It displayed both Davies’ elegant phrasing and his fine-spun legato line.

The encore was Handel’s ‘Hide me from day’s garish eye’ from L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, gloriously sung and played. Next up in vocal recitals, another great partnership in Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida with Winterreise on Friday 26th. Both of these recitals would have sold out in days, so it is a real privilege for so many to be able to enjoy them ‘as live’ in these broadcasts.

• The series features a live concert every weekday in June. They can be viewed here: wigmore-hall.org.uk/watch-listen/live-stream

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