IESTYN DAVIES: YOUR TUNEFUL VOICE (Vivat, through Southbound)
Verdict: The eternally tuneful Handel inspires English countertenor to the loftiest heights.
Those unmoved by the current taste for flamboyant and frenetic countertenors should get to know Iestyn Davies. On DVD, the Englishman is a smooth Unulfo in the Metropolitan Opera's recent production of Handel's Rodelinda; just last year, he mellifluously graced a number of major choral CD releases, including Bach's St John Passion and Handel's Belshazzar.
Both are top-notch performances from beginning to end but, nevertheless, you may find yourself sneaking back for repeat samplings of Davies' inspired contributions.
The singer's new Handel collection comes with a perfect title, Your Tuneful Voice, taken from Athamas' aria in Semele.
This reveals Davies' singular vocal strengths. The epitome of naturalness, the singer almost seems to caress the notes into lyrical life, whilst apt ornamentation never ruffles or ruptures the all-important tune.
There is a real engagement with Karl Debretzeni's solo violin until they both submit to the mellow tones of The King's Consort, impeccably turned by Robert King.
Talking tunefulness, this disc is also a triumph for its composer. Over and over, one can imagine the very secular pleasure that Handel's audiences must have taken from his oratorios.
Tune Your Harps from Esther, with Davies and oboist Rachel Chaplin floating over elegant waves of pizzicato strings, is not so far from the Brill Building pop of Carole King.
Marvel at the way in which composer and singer extend just four lines of verse into the 3 minutes and 35 seconds of Eternal Source of Light Divine.
Davies delivers it with trumpeter Alison Balsom on YouTube, but here, with Crispian Steele-Perkins, there is a more convincing sense of period performance style.
Davies can also dispense the fire of Vulcan when needed - in Mighty Love Now Calls to Arm with Robert King's players in brilliant brassy array - while two overtures give the instrumentalists the chance to shine.
Two collaborations with soprano Carolyn Sampson include the starkly moving Who Calls My Parting Soul from Death?, curiously echoing the final duet of Monteverdi's Nero and Poppaea.
Above all, Your Tuneful Voice is a welcome reminder that there is much more to Handel's oratorios than Messiah.