The voice of David Daniels may not be the most consistently beautiful countertenor, but its incisive and athletic power is hard to deny. We have heard him most recently in Handel, starring in productions of Radamisto in Santa Fe and Tamerlano here in Washington. That is music suited to this voice's strengths, with the passagework and the high-flying cadenzas etched in shimmering silver. In this new CD, Daniels sings sacred arias from three Bach cantatas (BWV 82a, 170, and 208), two passions (St. John and St. Matthew), and the Mass in B Minor. Even Daniels, in a promotional video about this recording, admits that he does not sing Bach all that often.
Bach, Sacred Arias and Cantatas, D. Daniels, English Concert, H. Bicket
(released September 16, 2008)
Virgin Classics 50999 519037 2 5
Geoff Brown (The Times)
It is a sign of how the historically informed performance (HIP) movement has changed the classical music world that one hardly feels the need to justify a countertenor’s appropriation of these works. If Daniels does seem better suited to the athletic melismas of Handel, this more introspective music by Bach showcases his ability to sustain a limpid, warm tone, spinning a line endlessly in the way Bach did. His previous pairings with Harry Bicket -- at Santa Fe Opera this summer and in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream at the Gran Teatre del Liceu -- have proven that it is a good match, and Bicket coaxes subtle, seductively calm performances from the generally excellent English Consort. Bicket likes to push the envelope of tempo expectations, and here, most notably, he pushes the Agnus Dei movement of the B Minor Mass forward at an undulating pace. Many performances of this gorgeous movement border on the obsequiously slow (Andreas Scholl is truly stuck in the molasses, on the Herreweghe recording), Bicket puts the emphasis on soft rather than slow, allowing the listener to wallow in the extravagant details, like examining the carved patterns of a medieval altar-screen up close.
After the death of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson it is hard not to think of Bach's serene cantata Ich habe Genug as belonging to her. Dawn Upshaw, writing about how she listened to Lieberson's recording of that cantata during her own cancer treatment, hit the nail on the head when she called it "an extraordinary performance -- one that is blessed, and that blesses us." While it is perhaps blasphemous to suggest it, while Daniels does not have that impassioned tone one loves in LHL's voice, this is a more polished performance (but not of the complete cantata), especially on the instrumental side. Several players in the English Concert contribute polished performances in the solo obbligati, including Katharine Spreckelsen (oboe and oboe d’amore), Lisa Beznosiuk and Guy Williams (flutes), and Pamela Thorby and Merlin Harrison (tenor recorders). For those keeping score, Daniels sings German ably (to my non-native ears) but opts for an Italianate pronunciation of Latin.
David Daniels sings Schlummert ein
The English Concert, Harry Bicket