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David Daniels is one of only two counter-tenors – the other is Andreas Scholl – with a reputation big enough to command a solo platform in a metropolitan concert hall. But for most of Tuesday’s recital I found myself wondering what Daniels imagined he was doing in the Barbican with a slender programme of 17th-century arias, motets and cantatas that really belonged in one of the City of London’s churches or livery halls – buildings with the intimacy to do this music justice.
Daniels made no compensating effort to draw his audience into the experience he was supposedly trying to sell, and it didn’t surprise me to learn his Birmingham recital a few days earlier was cancelled for lack of interest. Early Italian music is a hard enough sell at the best of times, and even harder if there is no attempt to communicate its depths, still less to interpret its surface. That was the hole Daniels fell into here – until suddenly, for his three encores, he cast aside the music-stand, opened up and made us realise why he has the reputation he does.
It was too late. His opening item, Ottone’s monologue from Monteverdi’s Poppea, was civilised to a fault. In “Così mi disprezzate” from Frescobaldi’s first book of Arie musicali, laughter and scorn became a harmless mélange. Lines such as “Tormenta pati non timeo” (“I am not afraid to suffer torments”) from Alessandro Scarlatti’s motet “Infirmata, vulnerata” might well have been whispered banalities. As for his more substantial Scarlatti item after the interval, Daniels elided the lines and made no change of emphasis for the repeats. The ability to convey emotion is what marks out the greatest singers, but Daniels – so effective in operatic costume – left it behind for this recital. What a waste of a beautiful and finely controlled voice.
Next time he proposes a London recital, he needs a more variegated programme, a more personable manner and an accompanying ensemble more engaged with the music than the lifeless Le Point du Jour.
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