Georg Philipp Telemann: Musique de Table
George Frideric Handel: Fiammi combattere, from Orlando
Henry Purcell: Lament from Dido and Aeneas
George Frideric Handel: Io t'abbraccio, from Rodelinda
Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 3
George Frideric Handel: Pompe vane di morte … Dove sei, from Rodelinda
George Frideric Handel: Se in fiorito, from Giulio Cesare
George Frideric Handel: Scherza infida and Dopo notte, from Ariodante
David Daniels (counter-tenor), Magdalena Kozena (mezzo-soprano)
Paul Goodwin (conductor)
Basel Chamber Orchestra
Twenty years ago, the idea of two star counter-tenors each filling the Barbican within a month would have been fantasy, but it has just happened. After Andreas Scholl's exquisite but chilly programme of Senesino's arias, David Daniels and Magdalena Kozena presented a much more sensuous, starry concert that included some of the same material. Whereas Scholl had everything right for Senesino except perhaps volume and knockout glamour, neither Daniels nor Kozena were an exact match for the originators of their arias. Vocal technique has quite likely changed a lot since the first woman (who was not called a mezzo) sang Dido's Lament, and the glandular arrangements of the castratos seems to present an unbridgeable gap with any modern singers. Still, both singers in this concert gave exhilarating performances, especially when they sang together, not only in the glorious announced duet from Rodelinda, but also in three amazing encores.
The concert began and was interspersed with movements from Telemann's Musique de table, and a Corelli Concerto Grosso, which were perfectly enjoyable and didn't remotely upstage the singers. The Basel Chamber Orchestra did the same for the singers, providing support and commentary where needed and not intruding where they weren't.
Daniels sang the Senesino arias. After a bit of a warm-up in Fiammi combattere, a barnstormer that in any case simple shows that Orlando is on the edge of madness and doesn't need much subtlety (Scholl did the much shorter but similar Per lampi di armi), he moved through the slightly melodramatic reflections of the recitative to an almost lachrymose, very beautiful Dove sei. He also added considerably to the joie di vivre of the concert by including a seductive Se in fiorito, accompanied by Gerd-Uwe Klein in a slightly hesitant violin obbligato birdsong. Between them they suggested not just the exuberance that comes with the certainty that you've pulled – the main meaning of the aria – but also the extra frisson and slight discomfort that go with the possible emotional complexities that follow, or perhaps, love.
Kozena, looking heroic in a vaguely warrior-queen outfit, sang the Purcell with great physical and dramatic commitment which made Daniels' all-purpose facial anguish seem dull by contrast. Where she really shone was in the two Ariodante arias, written for the coloratura specialist alto castrato Carestini. Both are showoff pieces, Scherza infida a study in anger, despair and sexual jealousy, Dopo notte a final cheer when the happy ending has arrived, both have two-octave ranges and extended developments. Kozena's voice sounds more robust than Daniels', although they sounded delicious singing together, and her technique seems impeccable with every note exactly where she wanted it to be. She showed off, in the most admirable way.
The encores had the audience lying their backs having their tummies scratched. Purcell's Sound the trumpet was exuberant, with pinpoint runs from both singers; To thee, thou glorious son of worth from Theodora was a luscious tear-jerker; and Pur ti miro, from the end of L'incoronazione di Poppea was pure beauty, with enough sense that it is really pure lust. Although nothing has been announced, we live in hope that Daniels and Kozena have a duet recital disc in the pipeline.