Arise, my muse
It says a lot about Iestyn Davies’s musical instincts that his second Wigmore Hall Live disc is less a solo showcase than a chamber recital in which he is just one member of a superb ensemble cast. Led from the harpsichord by Richard Egarr, the instrumentalists here take by turns both supporting and starring roles in music from Restoration London that roams far beyond the obvious Purcell.
While Davies offers appealing performances of classic works – ‘O solitude, my sweetest choice’ is exquisitely poised, and ‘Strike the viol’ is transformed from politely swaying dance into a muscular, swinging piece of folk-like abandon – some of the best things here are the least familiar. Jeremiah Clarke’s ‘The Glory of the Arcadian Groves’ unfolds into elegant melodic arabesques with support from two suitably bucolic recorders, while John Blow’s ‘Poor Celadon’ laments neglect of his beloved nymph with courtly poise, in melting phrases perfectly suited to Davies’s lovely legato.
A particular highlight is the Suite from Blow’s Venus and Adonis, in which Egarr’s band impersonate a cheeky Cupid and a heavy-footed huntsman with equal verve. Purcell’s instrumental music is represented by the Fantasia: Three Parts on a Ground – possibly the earliest surviving example of the ground basses that underpin so much of the composer’s music. False relations wink and strings swagger, and if the result doesn’t quite achieve the same attack as London Baroque’s wonderful recording (Harmonia Mundi, 10/90), there’s a rawness here that lends a welcome clarity to the lines.
This is a disc that reminds us why live recital programmes are such a valuable part of recorded repertoire. Rather than the monochrome focus on the solo artist permitted by the artifice of the studio, we get a fully rounded musical experience that feels more satisfying both for performers and listeners.