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A recital spoilt by poor diction
on 9 November 2014
At the risk of sounding a discordant note amidst the general acclaim for this disc....
I heard Iestyn Davies's and Thomas Dunford's recital from York earlier in the year on Radio 3, and thought I'd enjoyed it. I heard the CD reviewed on BBC Radio 3, bought it alongside the new Paul O'Dette lute CD of his favourite Dowland, and Christoph Denoth's Mr Dowland's Midnight of Dowland on classical guitar. I have a large collection of Dowland's music, play some of it (on the guitar), and fell in love with it about 50 years ago.
I've now played this CD several times, and really don't like it at all. Above all because of Davies's delivery and diction. You simply can't hear the words. Well, some of them. If you don't believe me, sit down with pen and paper and try to write down everything you've just heard. You won't be able to. At best there will be a lot of gaps. Then try the same with the Dowland songs on the old Consort of Musicke discs with Anthony Rooley and co - you'll hear every word of the singers, including the counter-tenor. Do the same with Alfred Deller - likewise. I was fortunate enough to be sitting in the front row at this year's Aldeburgh Festival recital by (among others) Magid El-Bushra (counter tenor) and Ian Watt (lute), singing Dowland songs - again, every word crystal clear. The words are essential in Dowland. But too many of Davies's words disappear into a sort of vocal mush. It's just a sound, a vocal effect. This can be a side-effect of the counter-tenor voice - something happens from the throat upwards. In Handel, possibly not a problem. But the Dowland songs are also poems, you need to hear the words. They need the unforced simplicity of a Martyn Hill, an Emma Kirkby, a Glenda Simpson...Davies just doesn't cut it.
His lutenist accompanist is...OK. It does come as welcome relief from Davies's singing.