ALBUM TITLE: ‘Where’er you walk’
WORKS: Arias from Handel: Esther; Il pastor fido; Ariodante; Alcina; Alexander’s Feast; L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato*; Samson; Jephtha; Semele; Boyce: Solomon; Arne: Artaxerxes; JC Smith: The Fairies
PERFORMER: Allan Clayton (tenor), *Mary Bevan (soprano); Classical Opera Choir & Orchestra /Ian Page
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 457
Ian Page and the orchestra of Classical Opera here survey the life of the English tenor John Beard, ‘Vocal Performer in Extraordinary’ to George III, with Allan Clayton as soloist. A former boy chorister, most likely in the Chapel Royal, Beard made his debut with Handel’s company in Il pastor fido aged 16. He went on to sing many of the composer’s most significant tenor roles in opera and oratorio; performing in pleasure gardens, pantomimes and ballad operas, then managing the opera house at Covent Garden before retiring to Hampton, in Middlesex, where he died in 1791.
Macheath, the antihero of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and another signature role for Beard, doesn’t feature among the suitors, villains and Old Testament warriors whose music makes up this recital. Nonetheless Page has created a coherent and nuanced biography of a singer of catholic tastes and remarkable virtuosity, with arias drawn from Alcina and Ariodante, Judas Maccabeus and Samson. Numbers from Boyce’s Solomon (including a delicious Sinfonia and balmy chorus), Arne’s Artaxerxes and John Christopher Smith’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Fairies provide context and variety, and close the gap between high Baroque and early Classical style.
While Ian Bostridge and Mark Padmore have recorded sophisticated Handel recital discs in recent years, there’s a guileless beauty of tone in Clayton’s Handel that is more reminiscent of John Mark Ainsley’s early recordings. Charles Dibdin’s description of Beard’s qualities as a singer in A Complete History of the English Stage (1797) – a ‘sound, male, powerful and extensive’ voice, with natural ‘flexibility’ – fit exactly those of Clayton. He is a stylish but not slavish Handelian, and there is too much juice in the voice for him to be characterised as a ‘typical English tenor’ – a description that in any case is overdue an overhaul.
‘Where’er you walk’ (from Semele) is shaped in such a way that you hear first Jupiter the god then Jupiter the lover, and the sequence from Jephtha, which culminates in ‘Waft her, angels, through the skies’ is faultless and sensitively accompanied. Led by Matthew Truscott, the string playing is reliably silky, well articulated and quick-witted, with musky obbligato solos from bassoonist Philip Turbett and oboist James Eastaway. The choral sound (from a small consort of bright, well-focused voices) is forthright, and Clayton’s duet with soprano Mary Bevan, ‘As steals the morn’ from L’Allegro, more properly a quartet with Turbett and Eastaway, and mesmerising in its looping, folding structure, is simply enchanting.