A capacity Wigmore Hall audience gave Iestyn Davies a rapturous reception following his judiciously chosen programme of Handel arias from operas in which he’s already triumphed, to one he is set to tackle at the Barbican next year. With the 17 players of the English Concert displaying their superb Baroque credentials in every bar, under the inspired baton of Harry Bicket, Davies was afforded the perfect support required to allow his glorious voice to soar.
And what a voice it is. There’s hardly a dearth of exceptional countertenors before the public these days, but it’s safe to say that Davies leads the field, not only because of the sheer beauty of his instrument, but because he now seems to be at the peak of his interpretative powers as well. Outstanding as he’s been in a variety of roles from Bertarido (Rodelinda) to Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), it was his turbo-charged assumption of the role of David in Glyndebourne’s outstanding staging of Handel’s Saul this summer that set the seal on his star status.
Everything that had so impressed then, was in evidence here in abundance. Opening the recital with three of Arsace’s arias from Partenope allowed us to marvel at, and revel in, Davies’ remarkable interpretative skills. From the hushed serenity of ‘Sento amor (Love unrelenting)’, via an ardent rendition of ‘Ch’io parta (And must I) through to the fast and furious ‘Furibondo spira il vento (The furious blast)’ his ability to spin a line, negotiate the trickiest of turns and deliver each and every run cleanly and accurately was breathtaking.
Without ever having to resort to his natural voice in the low-lowing lines of ‘Cara sposa (My dear betrothed)’, from Rodelinda, he conveyed Bertarido’s despair with heart-aching sincerity whilst summoning up a hair-raising sense of fury for ‘Venti turbine (Winds, gales)’, where his vocal decorations in the da capo section added to the sense of abandonment.
Following the interval we were treated to a ravishing account of ‘Pompe vane di morte!…Dove sei (The hollow splendour of death!…Where are you) and six arias from Orlando in which the character’s descent into madness was faultlessly etched by Davies. His appearance in the complete opera next year will not only be unmissable for anyone who admires the countertenor voice, but for those of us who never fail to be moved by the combination of a sublime voice, a faultless technique and superb artistry, all of which Davies has in spades.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.