David Daniels / Academy of St Martin in the Fields - Barbican, 19 September 2009
Handel Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (from Solomon) Nico Muhly Vocalise on Al lampo dell’ armi John Tavener Little Reliquary for G.F.H . Handel Overture to Serse Michael Nyman Ombra mai fu Handel Perfido, di a quell'empio tiranno (from Radamisto) Handel Sinfonia (Largo) Pompe vane di morte! (from Rodelinda) Craig Armstrong Themes and Variations on Adagio e Staccato from Water Music Handel Overture to Saul Nico Muhly Oh Lord whose mercies numberless Jocelyn Pook Sing Sing music was given Handel Aria - Vivi tiranno (from Rodelinda)
Everyone's favourite hairy beary countertenor David Daniels and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields proved tonight that not all Handel arias sound the same. Especially after they've been jiggled around by a bunch of contemporary composers (with a few originals thrown in for comparison) in the Handel Remixed project, part of the 250th anniversary celebrations.
Dodgy black tie/black shirt combo aside, David Daniels looked remarkably trim and refreshed - has he been supping from the same fountain of youth as Renee Fleming? Can't be the English weather.
Anyway, first remix up was Nico Muhly's wordless Vocalise on Al lampo dell’ armi. Much as it seems a waste to ignore David Daniels' extraordinary gift for expressing text, its stripped down textures, alternately reminiscent of Philip Glass and a jar of wasps, made one of the more interesting pieces of the evening. In Muhly's second contribution, Oh Lord whose mercies numberless, layered instruments repeated a simple figure at varying slow speeds in a lush, washy fugue.
John Tavener provided a hymn-like setting for a few lines from Solomon, and Michael Nyman orchestrated Ombra mai fu to a new tune in his trademark pared-down style, parts moving mainly in unison on the same note (the original cropped up for comparison as an encore). Craig Armstrong took his musical inspiration from Water Music and dabbed on some words from Don't Leave Me This Way (yes that one). I wondered whether the composers had been told who would be singing - a lot was written in a range too low to flatter any countertenor.
The only composer to give David Daniels time off was Jocelyn Pook. Her instrumental was the contribution most loosely sourced on its original (Oh Lord whose mercies numberless again) but its neatly intertwined melodies made it perhaps the most Handelian in spirit - so pretty in fact I'm not sure if it was intended to be ironic.
However gamely David Daniels tackled the new stuff, there's no question he was more at home with the three Handel originals. Despite the inflexibility of Harry Christophers' accompaniment, Bertarido's arias from Rodelinda had a spirit and emotional range that Handel's mixers just couldn't match.