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International Record Review - (04//2014)
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Whigmore Hall Live

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Reviewer:  John T Hughes



Readers who are showing an interest in this disc should think what the main attraction is for them. If they are considering it for the music it contains, all is well and good. If, however, they want a recital by lestyn Davies they need to know that his contribution lasts for only 47 minutes. (The timing on the back inlay is wrong, for the CD runs for 73

‑minutes, not 59.) It is not one of those for which the potential buyer is led astray by the title. It is what it says: 'lestyn Davies, Richard Egarr and friends', the last group individually named in our title, so one is not being 'cheated' by a disc named 'Alto Arias sung by lestyn Davies', or something similar, only to find that those arias contain a quartet or a rondo for flute and fortepiano, or, indeed, the non‑vocal items here.

One instrumental piece, Gabrieli's Sonata XXI, strikes me as an interloper, but not an unwelcome one, for geographically and chronologically its composer is out of line with the others whose music is performed here. The only non‑English writer, Gabrieli died before the natives were born. His Sonata concentrates on contrapuntal music for three violins supported by harpsichord and theorbo. (No information is given regarding the makers and age of any of the instruments used on this disc.) For his Fantasia, Z731, Purcell employed the same instrumentation plus a viola da gamba in a more invigorating piece.

After the first four Purcell songs, slowness predominates in this Wigmore Hall recital. As one reads the heading, it is apparent that, of the composers, Purcell is to the fore with ten compositions, of which the delightful and elegant 'Fairest Isle' from King Arthur is the encore, in which Davies produces lovely tone and some light decorative touches in the second verse. His announcement of it draws a cry of pleasure from a lady in the audience.

How does one measure a composer's standing? Who deserves the adjective 'great', even if it has any meaning left? (In a quiz programme on BBC television called Pointless, the host frequently refers to a couple who have been eliminated in just the second round as having been 'great' or 'brilliant' contestants. Ye Gods!) Would it be any more worthwhile to claim dogmatically that Purcell is Britain's greatest composer than to pontificate that he is not? I bet he would receive a substantial number of votes for the position, and one wonders how many of his predecessors, such as Tallis, Byrd or Gibbons, covered as wide a field as he did. Of his songs that Davies and his friends have chosen, If music be the food of love is the well‑known setting, the one which Alfred Deller recorded on an HMV 78, whereas heard less often is 'The pale and the purple Rose', a melodious piece from The Yorkshire Feast Song, sung in warm and honeyed tones by Davies.


In one or two spots in the recital the vocal line lies low for him, causing his voice to lose body and tone, but such occasions are few and far between, and for the most part he moves smoothly through the songs. In a note (page 9) he comments on his and Egarr's choice of tempo for 'Strike the viol' from Come ye sons of Art. He writes that 'people often treat "Strike the viol" as a slow stately dance ... We tried it like that in rehearsal and found that a faster speed worked much better when doing the piece between "Arise my muse" and "Here the Deities approve".' I have to summon the name of Deller again, for the first time that I heard the song was in the complete recording from L'Oiseau‑Lyre: his version was much slower than Davies's, and although I am not convinced that this new recording is better it is fascinating to hear the different treatment, and Davies and his colleagues are worthy advocates, as they are of all these selections. The two recorders tootle enjoyably in the item from The Yorkshire Feast Song, and the theorbo is soothing in its unaided accompaniment to 0 solitude, my sweetest choice!, confirming the feeling of being alone. Andrew Stewart's note names Kathleen Philips as the writer of the words, but at the end of the printed text of the song Mistress Philips has become Katherine. Stewart states that 0 solitude is 'arguably the finest of all Purcell's ground‑bass songs'; it finds Davies and William Carter displaying their suitability for it.

A couple more Jeremiah Clarke songs would have been welcome, but we are limited to the short but pleasing 'The Glory of the Arcadian Groves'. From William Croft comes Ye tuneful numbers, which consists of a symphony, three airs and a recitative, adding more variety. Davies again sings with ease, as he does in Blow's 'Poor Celadon', of a young man whose love for Euginia is not requited: a sad song sympathetically intoned. This agreeable selection should satisfy anybody to whom the programme appeals.

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