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GRAMOPHONE (05/2015)
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Wigmore Hall Live

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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan


Launched with 2014’s ‘The Art of Melancholy’ (Hyperion, 7/14), the partnership between young lutenist Thomas Dunford and countertenor Iestyn Davies is an exciting one – each matching and challenging the virtuosity of the other, and bringing youthful new life to the genre. But while ‘The Art of Melancholy’ focused solely on Dowland, Davies’s latest disc (and his third for Wigmore Hall Live) takes a broader look at the repertoire, taking in music by Robert Johnson, John Danyel and Thomas Campion.


Inevitably there are some overlaps; five tracks (some quarter of ‘Melancholy’) are duplicated here in live performances, recorded with all the clarity and colour we now expect from the Wigmore’s engineers. The Hyperion disc edges it for poise (with some slightly more measured tempi), but there’s an urgency to the Wigmore recordings that will appeal to some, as well as a performance of ‘Flow my tears’ that’s up with the very finest on disc – cobweb- fragile but with the same tensile strength through its melodic strands.


Though the mood is dominantly (and predictably) sombre, chiefly thanks to a sequence of John Danyel songs, their harmonies tortured and twisted into Gesualdo-like contortions, there are some sunnier moments. The opener – Robert Johnson’s ‘Have you seen the bright lily grow?’ – is exquisite, and his ‘From the famous peak of Derby’ brings some welcome irreverence to proceedings, while Dunford’s solos give this instinctive, expressive musician a chance to show his mettle.


The highlight, however – reason alone to buy the disc – is the world premiere recording of Nico Muhly’s Old Bones. Inspired by the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton, and written for Davies, the song has an elegiac, Brittenish quality, uniting its collage of texts with a flow of quasiconversational melody that sits somewhere between recitative and song. It’s music that haunts the ear and lingers in the mind – the best PR Richard III has had in a long time.


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