The young counter-tenor David Allsop sang a delightful lunchtime concert in St George’s Grosvenor Square on Monday, 8 March 2010. The programme featured works almost exclusively by Handel; the final item was a cantata by Vivaldi. Mr Allsop has a nicely produced, crystal clear and finely tuned counter-tenor voice which strongly reminds one of Michael Chance. Unlike many counter-tenors who sing in the Oxbridge tradition Mr Allsop produces a healthy, free sound without any trace of hoot. Another big difference between Mr Allsop and other Anglican counter-tenors is that he colours and varies his tone to express the text in interesting and unexpected ways - to boot Mr Allsop has a very good coloratura technique as displayed in the treacherously difficult Pianti.
Mr Allsop was very ably and musically accompanied by cellist Kinga Gaborjani and harpsichordist Charles Andrews. Although the accompaniment these two excellent musicians provided was technically spot-on, I felt that their involvement was on the level of a spectator as opposed to that of a participant and often Mr Allsop had to do much of the interpretative work.
In La Solitudine, the opening cantata (I unfortunately missed the first aria), I was immediately struck by Mr Allsop’s confidence and easy manner. The following item was Qualor di crudele. This cantata was made even more special as Mr Allsop gave a most delicately sung account of it. Irene stood out as one of the pieces where the continuo was passive in its emotional response to the text. On the word “crudele” (cruel) the continuo did not react to the text staying on the same dynamic and emotional level. In Stanco Mr Allsop delivered very neat coloratura on the word “vivace” (lively), and “mi desto” (I wake) was sung with particular brilliant timing. The final cantata, Pianti by Vivaldi, was a most welcome breath of fresh air as I found the Handel cantatas too similar sounding by the end of the recital. Vivaldi’s word painting in this cantata is spectacular. The musical imagery of the shipwreck (here cello and the harpsichord’s playing of the Aliberti bass was spectacular!). Also, Mr Allsop’s singing of the outrageously virtuosic coloratura was really incredible in the final aria. This cantata refutes Vivaldi’s reputation as a paint by numbers composer. The music is hideously difficult from the peaceful and placid legato of the opening aria to the endless reams of violin inspired coloratura in the finale.
I felt that the best music was not the Handel, but rather the Vivaldi. Though the majority of Handel’s cantatas date from Handel’s Italian apprenticeship the examples performed, though beautiful as individual pieces, were not particularly effective when performed together. (At these conversazione where the works were premiered there would often be more than one composer performing their own music.) Unfortunately, none of them had the emotional range of a La Lucrezia or the groundbreaking perversion of form and harmony of Tra le fiamme which date from this period. I felt that the programme would have benefited had some of the Handel been replaced with cantatas by Porpora, Scarlatti, Albinoni, or Caldara to add some variety.
Although Mr Allsop’s warm voice easily filled the church I wondered if his voice would need to be a size or two bigger for the opera house. In addition Mr Allsop needs to give his Italian a little more attention, as it was not consistently idiomatic throughout the course of the concert. Nonetheless, he has a lot going for him and I would consider him to be hot property. In summary, Mr Allsop is a very intelligent singer, with a most beautiful voice, and is clearly a very enthusiastic and sincere artist and I look forward to hearing more of him.