Monday, June 22, 2020

Wigmore Hall, London

Guest Reviewer, Amanda-Jane Doran

“Celebrated countertenor Iestyn Davies presents a programme with one of Europe’s leading lute players, Elizabeth Kenny. Together they explore repertoire from the 16th to 19th centuries, including some of Kenny’s own lute arrangements of works by Henry Purcell.” [Wigmore Hall website]

Iestyn Davies’s bell-like countertenor is as likely to be heard in an opera house as it is in the most intimate of recital spaces.

For this latest Wigmore Hall occasion he made a fine selection of lute songs by Purcell, Dowland and others, accompanied by Elizabeth Kenny who played a magnificent variety of stringed instruments.

Davies was on impressive form from the opening notes of Purcell’s Come ye Sons of Art, his tone rounded and expansive in By Beauteous Softness. His persuasive and natural sense of drama infused ‘What is Man’. Kenny’s contribution on theorbo was subtle in accompaniment and varied in her solo pieces, the melancholy Sefauchi’s Farewell beautifully phrased.

Songs of Dowland followed, as if expressly made to emphasise Davies’s flawless legato. Campion’s The Sypres Curten of the Night is Spread, a gravely melancholic reflection on Insomnia and mortality, was a highlight, and resonated with the current crisis and fragility of existence. Kenny, deftly switching to a lute, added complexity and beauty to each setting with understated mastery and her solo pieces were again varied in mood, Johnson’s Fantasie seamless and shaded.

Davies has long been exploring the Lied repertoire and he selected a group by Mozart and Schubert that share themes of melancholy, mortality and consolation. Davies’s delicacy of tone was matched by the filigree 1820’s guitar accompaniment of Kenny in Mozart’s Abendempfindung and Schubert’s profound Litanei.

The encore, Hide me from day’s garish eye, from Handel’s L’Allegro, reinforced the message of the healing power of music.