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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Your Tuneful Voice Handel Oratorio Arias
see end of review for track list
Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor), Carolyn Sampson (soprano) (8, 16), Rachel Chaplin (oboe) (3), Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet) (7), Kati Debretzeni (violin) (9)
The King’s Consort/Robert King
rec. Menuhin Hall, Surrey, 6-8 September 2013
Sung texts enclosed
VIVAT 105 [67:23]

Iestyn Davies, now in his mid-thirties, has steadily striven to achieve the top layer of counter-tenors during the last few years and is now firmly established in that select company. His discography is comprehensive and in 2012 he won a Gramophone Award in the recital category for a disc with arias for Guadagni. See the review by Robert Hugill, who writes “Davies’ performances here are spot-on, poised and beautifully modulated with a fine sense of line.” This characterisation is certainly ‘spot-on’ and completely applicable to the contents of the present disc. Some of these arias were written or rewritten for Guadagni, who was the singer who worked longest with Handel. He is said to have had a smallish voice; whether Iestyn Davies’s voice is bigger than Guadagni’s is impossible to know but it is perfectly suited to the arias here. These are very variable – not in quality but in content and requirements. True, several are rather slow but others are virtuosic and dramatic. For variety there are also two of Handel’s best overtures, two duets and several excellent instrumental soloists. All in all this makes for a rich and inspiring programme.
 
The sheer beauty of Iestyn Davies’s voice is immediately apparent in the opening aria, O sacred oracles of truth from Belshazzar. He has a good trill and, as he shows in the next aria, Mortals think that Time is sleeping from The Triumph of Time and Truth, excellent coloratura technique. There is also a beautiful recorder duo here. In Tune your harps from Esther Rachel Chaplin has a fine oboe solo and the plucked string accompaniment is a delight. The trumpet fanfares that open Mighty love now calls to arm from Alexander Balus announce some highly dramatic singing and the brilliance is astonishing. Robert King draws robust playing from superb orchestra – remarkably he founded the group 34 years ago and they are still playing with youthful enthusiasm, not a sign of lean-back routine. They really show their paces in the overture to Jephtha that follows and even more so in the overture to Samson that comes later. The rousing central allegro (tr. 13) is certainly one of the highlights of this disc.
 
The magical Eternal source of light divine from Birthday Ode for Queen Anne (tr. 7) is without doubt one of Handel’s greatest masterpieces and besides Iestyn Davies’s noble singing it’s a pleasure to hear Crispian Steele-Perkins’s rock-steady trumpet playing. It’s quite some time since he played this aria together with James Bowman and The King’s Consort, a rightly famous recording which is now challenged by this latest attempt.
 
In Welcome as the dawn of day from Solomon Davies is partnered by Carolyn Sampson, today one of the foremost sopranos specializing in historically informed baroque interpretation. She has been one of the recurring names in Masaaki Suzuki’s landmark series of Bach recordings for BIS and she was an ideal choice for the present disc.
 
There is a lot of beautiful singing to follow, including the aria that lends its name to the whole recital, Your tuneful voice my tale would tell from Semele,. It boasts yet another outstanding instrumental obbligato, this time it’s Kati Debretzeni’s violin that enchants. The aria from Jephtha, Up the dreadful steep ascending comes as a nice change of tempo, also involving some highly virtuosic coloratura.
 
Carolyn Sampson returns for the beautiful but gloomy Who calls my parting soul from death from Esther but the final number, also from Esther, is fast and swinging and leaves the listener in high spirits.
 
The new Vivat label – this is only their fifth issue – has produced a marvellous disc: expert recording, great playing and singing. Couple this with a programme that avoids the most obvious and instead puts some lesser known arias in the well-deserved limelight. Baroque enthusiasts should place their orders at once.

Göran Forsling

Previous review: John Quinn  

Track listing
Belshazzar:
1. O sacred oracles of truth [5:01]
The Triumph of Time and Truth:
2. Mortals think that Time is sleeping [7:05]
Esther:
3. Tune your harps to cheerful strains [4:45]
Alexander Balus:
4. Mighty love now calls to arm [2:35]
Jephtha:
Overture [6:47]
5. [Grave] – Allegro – [Grave] [5:09]
6. Menuet [1:38]
Birthday Ode for Queen Anne:
7. Eternal source of light divine [3:35]
Solomon:
8. Welcome as the dawn of day [3:32]
Semele:
9. Your tuneful voice my tale would tell [5:12]
The Choice of Hercules:
10. Yet can I hear that dulcet lay [3:49]
Jephtha:
11. Up the dreadful steep ascending [3:36]
Samson:
Overture [7:43]
12. Andante – Adagio [3:17]
13. Allegro – Adagio [1:37]
14. Menuetto [2:49]
Israel in Egypt:
15. Thou shalt bring them in [3:15]
Esther:
16. Who calls my parting soul from death [3:13]
The Triumph of Time and Truth:
17. On the valleys, dark and cheerless [4:00]
Esther:
18. How can I stay when love invites [3:06]