Countertenor David Daniels and Pianist Martin Katz
present Art Song Recital in Richmond, Virginia

Our friend Elise Hofheimer Wright of Richmond in winter and Virginia Beach in summer offered us tickets for the David Daniels recital on January 16, 2008 at the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond. She suggested we make a day of it and we did. The concert capped a wonderfully refreshing day in Richmond. In 2007 Mrs. Wright celebrated fifty years as a volunteer at the Valentine Richmond History Center. She gave Steve and me a personal tour of the 1812 Wickham House with sculpture garden including the Edward Valentine (1838-1930) Sculpture Studio and lunch at the museum cafe. The house has been meticulously restored with period furniture, carpets, window treatments and painted effects, including lunettes and panels in an exquisite muted color palate, all true to the original. This experience made up for my disappointment last year when we visited Winterthur with its mishmash of period decor and furnishings. After a visit to her home and dinner at a local restaurant we headed for the theater.

We had heard David Daniels and Martin Katz in an art song recital at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk in April of 1999. As a character in an opera the countertenor voice is believable but in art song I can appreciate the artistry of a superb musician but for me most of the songs lacked emotional potency. Only in the Handel arias did his expression come alive for me.

I wondered if my experience nine years later would be significantly different and how I could review it. Fortunately, New York Times critic Allan Kozinn attended the same program performed at Zankel Hall (Carnegie Hall's small recital space) on January 28, 2008. (See the January 30 New York Times). In his review, Kozinn says of the high-pitched voice in a performance of Brahms songs Auf dem See (At the lake) and Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund (My lassie's mouth is like a rosebud) "he sang with a disarming emotional directness and a lustrous vibrato that underscored the music's Romantic impulse." For me it was the profound sadness of Nicht mehr zu gehen (To visit you no longer) that made an emotional impact. Daniels paused before he began, giving himself time to emotionally prepare for this song. Katz's playing was especially powerful after the text ended.

The Italian set that followed included songs by Peri (1561-1633), Durante (1684-1755), Frescobaldi (1583-1643) and the ever popular Amarilli, mia bella by Caccini (1551-1618). They were performed with excellent ornamentation in a warm and somewhat fuzzy sound.

A set of Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947) songs opened with A Chloris. Hahn borrowed his opening music from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. In this spirited love song Mr. Daniels demonstrated the craftsmanship of the almost instrumental purity of his sound. The Cabaret energy of Quand je pris au pavillon (When I was lured to her love nest), the passion of Chason au bord de la fontaine (Song on the edge of the fountain) and Paysage (A Landscape) rounded the set. The performance was passionate and lovely but I still miss the soprano voice.

The piano tuner came on stage during intermission and made adjustments. When Mr. Daniels returned he sang Cara sposa, amante cara (My dear betrothed) from Handel's Rinaldo and Furibondo spira il vento (as the wind whistles furiously) from Partenope. Here his voice was perfection in music composed for countertenor. His sound was rich with fiery emotion and deeply dramatic. When expressing intense emotion his movements are stiff and jerky, giving him the appearance of a marionette.

As part of a set of English songs, mostly composed in the 20th century, it was interesting to hear Roger Quilter's (1877-1953) Music When Soft Voices Die in a light, delicate, alto sound. Sir Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) Where Corals Lie lacked vocal gavitas. Other selections by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Herbert Howells (1892-1983) and Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) were performed. The second encore, a piece by Handel, left me convinced that a whole recital of songs written for the countertenor voice would please me most.

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