Recently in Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."



22 Jun 2020

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

A live recital from Wigmore Hall by Iestyn Davies (countertenor) and Elizabeth Kenny (lute)

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Elizabeth Kenny and Iestyn Davies


At first glance their programme looked fairly conventional and predictable. And, as has been the case with all the other vocal recitals in the series that I’ve watched, it focused on the work of English composers, in this case from the 16th and 17th centuries - though Davies and Kenny had a few surprises up their sleeve.

But, it was with the Orpheus Britannicus, Henry Purcell, that we began. And, I can think of few who communicate the ‘essence’ of this music more movingly or perceptively than Davies. His plea for music, “Strike the viol, touch the lute, wake the harp” (from Come, ye songs of art away, the last of six birthday Odes written for Queen Mary), was a luring, liquidy invitation, the section repeats temptingly ornamented vocally and showcased by Kenny’s rhythmically taut but understated accompaniment. ‘By beauteous softness mixed with majesty’, from the first birthday Ode, offered more delicate, muted reflections, Kenny’s lute spinning a translucent spider’s web of interlocking voices and Davies’ countertenor gliding through the sequential repetitions and variants with soft smoothness. “He with such sweetness and justness reigns”: it was impossible to disagree. Davies is able to expand, colour and enrich his voice at the click of an invisible switch and to integrate such flourishes within what one would imagine to be an impossibly even line.

The duo segued into ‘Lord, what is man?’, reaching deeper into the metaphysical profundity of the seventeenth century. There was a wonderful introspective quality at the start, but as the tessitura and the emotional scope enlarged - the frequent vocal leaps were effortlessly elided - the music pushed towards the triple-time “O for a quill” acquiring an ever more optimistic tone, and finally blooming in the concluding Hallelujah section. I can imagine many of the current superb bunch of international countertenors rattling off the virtuosic runs with equal accuracy, but few who would do so in the service of the music with such insight, daring to hold back, to tempt and invite with Purcell’s bravura, rather than to dazzle. No wonder Kenny allowed herself the briefest of smiles at the close.

Kenny closed the Purcell sequence with her own arrangements of a brusque Rigadoon, a contemplative Farewell and a nonchalant ‘Lillibulero’, her playing always lucid and tender as she stroked and plucked her beautiful theorbo’s strings with care and understanding, nurturing Purcell’s music into being.

John Dowland, Thomas Campion and Robert Johnson followed. The strophic suavity of ‘Behold a wonder here’ and ‘The sypres curten of the night is spread’ beautifully illustrated the compelling unity of vocal directness and the affective tracery of the lute achieved by Dowland and Campion, respectively. Davies found particularly expressive nuance in Campion’s song, sustaining the melancholy introspection while simultaneously searching through turbulent emotions, as Kenny provided a delicate lace-work tapestry to support the singer’s sombre but silken reflections. Davies was no less musical and articulate in conveying the more declamatory rhetorical intimations of Dowland’s ‘Sorrow, stay, lend true repentant tears’. Campion’s agile ‘I care not for these ladies’ found the performers in more nonchalant, but no less perceptive, mood. Kenny interleaved a Fantasia by Johnson, Dowland’s dynamic King’s Galliard and a brisk Corante by the intriguing ‘Mr Confess’.

Then came the unexpected. We shifted forwards 100 years. Mozart’s songs are not usually considered central to his oeuvre (somewhat surprising, perhaps, given his mastery of every genre of contemporary opera) but the lied ‘Abendempfindung’, composed in June 1787, less than a month after his father Leopold’s death, exemplifies the art of understated eloquence. The poet-speaker sings of his presentment of his inevitable death to the Petrarchian ‘Laura’, pleading with her to shed a tear on his grave which will be the “fairest pearl” which he takes to his heavenly refuge. Kenny’s French guitar lilted lightly through the simple arpeggio-accompaniment, while Davies expressed the depth of the poetic feeling without vocal or expressive mannerism. The candour was the performance’s power.

Finally came Schubert. ‘Heidenröslein’ was deliciously light and insouciant, with some wonderfully shaped rubatos and diminuendos. Quite honestly, I could listen to Davies’ mellifluous, subtly expressive performance of ‘Am Tage aller Seelen’ on a 24-hour loop. If you needed convincing that a countertenor can make a Schubert lied ‘speak’ here was your evidence. Kenny knew absolutely where and when to come to the fore and when to recede. By this point in the recital, I’d run out of superlatives, so Opera Today readers will have to imagine for themselves, or watch via the link below.

And, an encore to close: Handel’s ‘Hide me from day’s garish eye’ from L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. As Davies explained, Milton’s text expresses the hope that, after seeming to have lived a terrible dream, when man awakens sweet music will breathe, and continue to breathe. So do we all, so do we all.

Claire Seymour

This concert is available here and via BBC Sounds until 22 July. Wigmore Hall's live stream of this concert was supported by Hamish Parker.

Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Elizabeth Kenny (lute)

Purcell - ‘Strike the viol, touch the lute’ (from Come, ye sons of art, away Z323), ‘By beauteous softness mixed with majesty’ (from Now Does the Glorious Day Appear Z332), ‘Lord, what is man?’ (A Divine Hymn Z192), Rigadoon (arr. Elizabeth Kenny), ‘Sefauchi’s Farewell’ Z656 (arr. Elizabeth Kenny), ‘Lillibulero’ Z646; Dowland - ‘Behold a wonder here’; Campion - ‘The sypres curten of the night is spread’; Johnson - Fantasia; Dowland - ‘Sorrow, stay, lend true repentant tears’, ‘The King of Denmark, his Galliard’; Campion - ‘I care not for these ladies’, Anon - ‘Mr Confess’ Coranto’; Mozart - ‘Abendempfindung’ K523; Schubert - ‘Heidenröslein’ D257, ‘ Am Tage aller Seelen’ D343.

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 22nd June 2020.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):