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Bach and Handel: David Daniels (Counter-tenor), The English Concert, Harry Bicket (Director), Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 15.10.2008 (RC)


Bach's Orchestral Suite No 1 in C
Cantata No 170 ('Vergnugte Ruh, Beleibte Seelenlust')
'Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris' (Mass in B minor)
Sinfonia from Cantata No 42 ('Am Abend desselbigen Sabbats')
'Schlummert ein' from Cantata No 82 ('Ich habe genug')
'Erbarme dich mein Gott', ('St Matthew Passion')
Handel's Concerto grosso in A, Op 6 No 11
'Ombra cara' ('Radamisto')
'Furibondo', ('Partenope', Act 2)
Passacaglia from Act 2 of 'Radamisto'
Mad scene from 'Orlando'

There is always the danger that the hype surrounding star singers does not match your expectations when heard live, particularly if you are used to their carefully edited and glossily packaged CDs. However, there is no doubt that David Daniels thrives on his interaction with an audience, feeding his strong musical and dramatic instincts. The close rapport he demonstrated with The English Concert under Harry Bicket helped him deliver a highly satisfying concert of counter-tenor show stoppers.

First off was a stylish but rather detached performance of Bach’s First Orchestral Suite. There was no doubt that it demonstrated all the qualities we have come to expect from the top period instrument groups in terms of blend, accuracy, and rhythmic athleticism. Bicket’s gestures from the keyboard were frequent but telling, coaxing long melodic lines from the players. I was impressed yet found I was focusing on the technical rather than the musical details. However, by the time of Handel’s Concerto Grosso at the beginning of the second half the players were well into their stride, projecting the joyful and exuberant nature of the music to the full.

With his first entry in 'Vergnugte Ruh’ I was immediately captured by the sheer beauty of Daniels’ voice. His attention to the text was precise but unselfconscious, and his subtle phrasing and articulation employed for entirely musical ends. The 'Qui sedes’ from the B minor Mass was notable for the expert interplay between Katharina Sprecklesen’s oboe d’amore and Daniels. 'Schlummert ein' was a highlight for me, with Daniels’s interpretation perfectly resonating with the gently slumbering sentiment of the text. 'Erbarme dich’ never fails to move in such a sympathetic performance as this, but inevitably it lacks the cumulative effect when experienced in context.

With the move from Bach to Handel came a shift from internal meditation to external drama. Daniels relished the dramatic possibilities of each piece, continually drawing the audience into the psychological conflicts expressed by the music. 'Furibondo' was literally a blast, displaying vocal virtuosity of the highest order. Daniels finished the concert with the mad scene from 'Orlando', handling the juxtaposition of emotions with consummate ease and artistry.

Robert Costin

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