In review: Daniels & Katz at Wigmore Hall

In review: Daniels & Katz at Wigmore Hall

Photo: Simon Pauly.

On Monday night at Wigmore Hall, we were reminded how lucky we are to live in a time when countertenors sing not only early music, but Beethoven and folksongs as well. As a powerful duo, David Daniels and Martin Katz showed us different styles of musicality and an expressiveness that seems to transcend style itself.

Daniels started the evening proving he sings with as much ease as he ever did - in fact, he has the air of a musician to whom singing came naturally. In Beethoven's Adelaïde he showed off the variety of colors in his voice that shook up the countertenor as a voice type in the 1990's. As we're used to hearing this one down the octave, Katz's interpretation and voicing of the piano part combined with the singer pitched in the true treble clef breathed new life into this popular song. There were times when Daniels' sound was overpowered by Katz's bright playing, the singer's vibrato becoming wide and uneven.

Next on the program were three songs by Purcell, all chosen extremely well to suit Daniels. Music for a while showed the understated soft qualities in his lower register. In I'll Sail upon the Dog-star we caught a glimpse of the impressive coloratura and intense dramaticism that Daniels is famous for. Once again the brilliant playing of Katz tended to cover up the singer.

For Abraham and Isaac, the duo were joined by tenor David Webb to play Daniels' father in this genius work by Benjamin Britten. This Canticle is more of a fifteen-minute opera scene, where the singers playing Abraham and Isaac come together in ethereal harmony to represent the voice of god. In between great singing and touching moments, it felt as though the two voices didn't completely mesh together. This could have been because of the quality in their sounds, or the difference between Webb's tightly spun resonance compared to Daniels' loose vibrato that at times hinted at a wobble.

Both Daniels and Katz seemed to feel most at home for two Handel arias from Radamisto. Katz showed his ability to produce an orchestral sound from the hall's Steinway, and Daniels is the kind of singer who really knows how to sing Italian recitative - there were magical moments where we mistook his singing for speech in this convincing dramatization of Radamisto. We're always happy to hear mezzos and countertenors sing with a bit of chest voice, and Daniels gave us exactly what we wanted during "Confusa si mori". Hearing his modal voice served this aria, as it sounded like a natural extension of his voice, rather than the "Becky" and "Steve" effect of sounding like two different singers.

Closing the program were Steven Mark Kohn's arrangements of folksongs, delivering some of the most touching moments in the entire evening. Veterans of performing Kohn's settings, these two told stunning stories with an authoritative presence that seemed to speak to Brits and North Americans alike in the audience. As in his Handel, Daniels made us feel as though he was simply talking to us rather than singing.

With a career that started twenty-five years ago, singing entirely different from our patriarchs of Alfred Deller and James Bowman, Daniels is responsible for growing what was once a niched zoo animal of a fach into one to stand up with the rest of them. In doing so, he has set the bar extremely high for countertenors, to a standard to which he continues to hold himself.

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Written by

Collin Shay

Collin Shay

Collin Shay is a London-based countertenor hailing from Connecticut. Originally studying as a pianist, he took up classical singing as a teenager and no, he did not start singing as a baritone. A graduate of McGill University and a current postgraduate student at the Guildhall School of Music, he remains active as an interpreter of early and contemporary music. Look for him in Hampstead Garden Opera's upcoming production of L'Incoronazione di Poppea as Ottone this spring.

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