It’s the album we’ve been waiting for from Iestyn Davies. While the British countertenor has an impressive catalogue of ensemble recordings to his credit, his solo discs have thus far skirted core repertoire in favour of Baroque B roads. With this recital of Handel’s oratorio arias (and a few duets with soprano Carolyn Sampson thrown in as a bonus) he changes the pace.
The countertenor for people who don’t like countertenors, Davies is hard to fault for purity and evenness of tone. Beauty of sound is allied to musicality that makes aural arabesques of Handel’s melodies. ‘Mortals think’ and ‘On the Valleys’ unfold in endless legato lines, while Davies finds a simpler, lilting approach to ‘Tune your Harps’, duetting elegantly with a solo oboe.
It’s a shame then that such careful programming (including unexpected choices from Belshazzar, The Triumph of Time and Truth and – most underrated of all – Esther) and some beautiful singing from Davies himself are dulled by a recording that sounds as though microphones were wrapped in velvet throughout.
Under director Robert King, The King’s Consort lack the Italianate swagger and bite that has helped reanimate so much of this repertoire. With sounds this muted and distant, the disc risks melting into mere loveliness. There’s more to both Davies and this music than that.