Composers: Purcell, Michael Nyman
Performers: Iestyn Davies ct, Fretwork
Catalogue Number: Signum  SIGCD586

Musical conversations and collisions across the centuries are the basis of British countertenor Iestyn Davies’ latest recital. In collaboration with the viol consort Fretwork, he brings together works by Purcell and Michael Nyman in intriguing and often confrontational juxtaposition. Davies isn’t, of course, the first to trace the instinctive kinship between baroque’s cycling ground basses and chugging arpeggios and minimalism’s mechanistic processes. So, does the program drive the conversation forwards?

What If does brilliantly is cut to the core of the difference between the two worlds. The rhetorical expression and quasi-improvised freedom of Purcell’s O Solitude (beautifully shaped and paced by Davies) and the rapt wonder of Music For A While blaze newly colourful and warm alongside the blanched landscapes of the Nyman. Purcell left no songs with viol accompaniment, so these consort arrangements by Richard Boothby are an innovation, and one that allows the composer’s sinuous accompaniments to weave with new texture around the voice.

The Nyman, by contrast, uses the same forces and processes to very different ends. There’s a wilful restraint (both in expression and musical material) to two extracts from his soundtrack to The Diary of Anne Frank as well as song cycle No Time in Eternity, where Nyman’s music lets Herrick’s aphoristic verses pass cleanly through his hands without inflection or interpretation.

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