David Daniels is one of the finest counter-tenors singing
and recording today, and is at his strongest when singing Handel. He
has appeared in many recordings and performances of Handelís operas
and oratorios, and has already recorded one disc of opera arias. On
this disc, Daniels approaches Handelís oratorios, sacred dramas - structurally
similar to operas - which were composed toward the end of Handelís career,
and which are also in English (unlike his operas).
I am a big fan of David Daniels, and welcome this disc
with great pleasure and high expectations. The difficulty of such a
disc lies less in the actual performance of the works - Daniels is a
consummate performer, and such studio recordings allow the singer and
musicians to usually come up with good recordings. The challenge is
more in providing a satisfying program, as for a stage recital, with
enough variety, musicality and energy to keep the listener attracted
throughout the disc. In this measure, Daniels and John Nelson are very
successful. While there is no shortage of fine arias in Handelís many
oratorios, the selection here works well, both is the quality of the
music and in the variety of the types of pieces.
The rhythm and feeling of this disc switch often from
fast, virtuoso arias to slower, more intense pieces. For example, the
two arias from Semele, Despair no more shall wound me and Your
tuneful voice, make a pair of opposites: the former is full of energetic
leaps and a lively tempo, and the latter one of Handelís most emotionally
powerful arias, with less of a presence of the musicians. However, in
this aria, the solo violin playing obbligato, which is at the left of
the sound-space, almost becomes too present at times.
The sound is probably the main drawback of this disc.
With the strings to the left, the continuo to the right, and Daniels
in the centre, the music sounds unbalanced, especially when listening
on headphones. But when one reaches the end of this disc, which culminates
in one of Handelís absolute greatest arias, He was despised,
from Messiah, one can forget the sound and be grateful that David
Daniels exists, and that he sings this unforgettable music. For the
almost eleven minutes of this aria, the listener is carried away by
Danielsí sensitive interpretation of this masterpiece.