Alfred Deller: Portrait of a voice

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: A Scarlatti etc,Blow,Caccini,Campion,Clarke,Dowland,Morley,Purcell,Rosseter,Saracini
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: songs by Campion, Rosseter, Morley, Purcell, Dowland, Caccini, Blow, Clarke, Saracini, A Scarlatti etc
PERFORMER: Alfred Deller (countertenor); Deller Consort
CATALOGUE NO: HMD 9909018

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This DVD presents a French TV programme first broadcast in February 1976. It has now been digitally re-mastered and, apart from flaky sub-titles embedded in the original videotape which cannot be concealed, the technical standard is high, both for image and sound.

In fact, if it were not for the clothes and the hilarious hairstyles of certain members of the Deller Consort, it might pass for a much more recent production. One thing gives it away, though: the directorial approach. The camera focuses steadily on Deller during the interviews that occupy most of the programme, and the same sober style is used during inserts from recitals.

At no time does director Benoît Jacquot cut away to shaky hand-held monochrome shots, probe Deller’s nostrils, or whirl the camera around its subject. Undistracted by such inane antics we have no choice but to listen raptly to Deller as he answers questions about his own life and career, the history of the countertenor, and how the voice is produced. Whilst beguiled by his clear, expressive voice, we can study his eloquent gestures as he sings.

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There are no bonuses on the DVD itself, but it comes handsomely packaged with a CD of marvellous performances of mainly Elizabethan songs that feature an impressive collection of accompanists. CD and DVD show clearly how and why Deller was the champion (in all senses) of the countertenor voice previously unregarded by the general public and confined for centuries to English church choirs. Barry Witherden