REVIEW: Robert Gammon’s verdict on Iestyn Davies & Ensemble Jupiter, York Early Music Festival, July 8

York countertenor Iestyn Davies: “Inhabiting this repertoire so completely”

York Early Music Festival 2023: Iestyn Davies & Ensemble Jupiter, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, 8/7/2023

ENSEMBLE Jupiter’s seven instrumentalists teamed up with leading countertenor Iestyn Davies to immerse themselves in the music of Handel, mainly arias from his late secular oratorios.

From the mellifluous opening of Eternal Source Of Light Divine, everything sounded perfectly natural, and Davies and Ensemble Jupiter seemed in tune throughout, in every sense.

Some brilliant violin virtuosity from Louise Ayrton and Magdalena Sypniewski was underpinned by classy continuo playing from lutenist Thomas Dunford and harpsichordist Benoît Hartoin, which provided percussive vitality at just the right moments; Hartoin shifted to chamber organ for music requiring less bite. Instrumental numbers were rhythmically pointed and sharply characterised.

Davies inhabits this repertoire so completely, with such dedication and beauty of voice, that the audience was willingly drawn into his musical world. His tone in Yet, Can I Hear That Dulcet Lay was as sweet as the honeydew the text alludes to.

In Despair No More Shall Wound Me, such vocal virtuosity is called for that his further decorations on its reprise were a marvel. On the surface, the lyrics of Mortals Think That Time Is Sleeping appear commonplace, but here they were invested with mortifying meaning.

The ovation demanded two encores, the second being the song We Are The Ocean by Thomas Dunford, Ensemble Jupiter’s director. Its jazzy, improvisatory episode was a jammy middle to a delicious confection and showed further evidence of these musicians’ enjoyment of each other’s company.

This year’s York Early Music Festival is already in full swing!

Review by Robert Gammon