Edinburgh Reviews: RECITAL Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture
IT REALLY isn't hard to work out how David Daniels has become a star in so short a time. Virtually the whole of the opera world saw him fall meltingly in love with Dawn Upshaw's Theodora in Peter Sellars's uplifting Glyndebourne production in 1996 and since then this Cincinatti countertenor hasn't looked back.

Record companies have been fighting very hard to sign up his "rival" Andreas Scholl, but Daniels has more than held his own with a debut recital disc of Handel arias which has been released to ecstatic reviews.

The countertenor revival was spearheaded in the 1940s by the self-taught Alfred Deller whose almost unearthly trademark tone has remained something of a singers' blueprint ever since.

That's partly a natural result of the way the high male alto sound is physically produced, but whatever the reason, the desire for such ethereal smoothness and purity of line militates against a really wide range of vocal colours.

Daniels's voice, however, has real zing. He has a thrillingly fast vibrato which, coupled with his ringing, bright edge, makes his sound very distinctive. Even better still, Daniels also has superb breath control which gives him immense power, as well as vocal agility which makes his singing of Handel so impressive. It is impossible, to escape the conclusion that his technique is in every way extraordinarily accomplished.

And if that was what singing was all about he'd be home free. But it's not. Daniels sacrifices everything for tone. It's as if he's so busy concentrating on a perfect stream of sound that he only adds consonants as an afterthought.

There's a fatal disconnection between the music and the words, a case of sound first and meaning afterwards, a problem cruelly exposed in his recital programme. Singing in Spanish, French, Italian and German meant that his tendency to generalise emotions was sometimes slightly disguised, but none the less forgivable. But when singing in his native language - Britten folk song settings and four lushly romantic American songs by Richard Hundley - hearing the same honeyed agueness was positively bizarre.

For all the mysterious beauty of his sound the overall effect is curiously unyielding, positively the last quality you need to sing Schubert. His songs demand detailed, individual dramatic expression but Daniels's unsubtle interpretative range is too cautious and self-conscious. His violence is tastefully loud and angry, his moments of loss are just vague hushed sadness.

The highlight was undoubtedly Handel's "Vivi, tiranno", a fierce vocal assault course which Daniels covered with astonishing ease but even that paled beside memories of someone like Marilyn Horne who makes you believe her life depends upon the singing of it.

Admittedly, the comparison of such a different voice is unfair but it points to the basic flaw in Daniels's singing.

You sit back and appreciate his technique but long for him to let go. If he risked a harsh or unlovely sound to match a raw emotion it might truly move you. That way he could use music to communicate something personal. What else is singing about?