City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Arcangelo Iestyn Davies, EIF 2012, Review

By Barnaby Miln - Posted on 20 August 2012

Iestyn Davies countertenor
Show details
Greyfriars Kirk
Running time: 
Handel, Mi palpita il cor HWV132c; Porpora, Oh Dio, che non è vero; Handel, Violin Sonata in A HWV372; Porpora, Oh se fosse il mio core.
Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Jonathan Cohen (keyboard, director), Stéphanie-Marie Degand (violin), Jonathan Manson (cello), Thomas Dunford (lute).

Iestyn Davies was a choir boy in the chapel of St John’s College Cambridge, went on to be a countertenor at Wells Cathedral School and returned to St John’s as a choral scholar. Now aged 32 he has an extraordinarily impressive curriculum vitae both as a soloist in opera and in classical orchestral music.

Handel’s Mi palpita il cor - I feel my heart beating - was written soon after Handel arrived in London for the first time. It  tells the story of distress of a male lover blaming the shepherdess Clori and asks Cupid to cause her the same distress he was suffering.

Whilst the Italian composer Nicola Porpora was at the court of the Prince of Wales in London he was competing with Handel. Iestyn Davies sang two of his arias telling of the distress of a lover who is turning away the advances of someone he does not seek.

Between the two Porpora arias the accompanying Arcangelo played Handel’s Violin Sonata in A, although how much Handel had to do with its composition is uncertain. Arcangelo, on the other hand, were showing their metal in this and in the way they accompanied Iestyn Davies. Founded as recently as 2010 by their keyboard player, Jonathan Cohen, they have become a force to reckon with. This was their first appearance at the Edinburgh Festival and welcome they were.

The singing was in Latin. I was fascinated looking around at how few people were following the words, whether in Latin or the English translation, in the programme. I tried to follow the Latin but but no means every word was clear and maybe that’s the way it should   be. But I am not sure. But it was an absorbing hour and clearly very much appreciated by the packed audience even if many presumably did not know the two story lines.

Event: Thursday 16 August 2012, 5.45pm

Thank you Barnaby for your review. I would like to point out a couple of details that may have slipped through the editing here. Fistly, my name is not Lestyn, an error made in the first sentence but later corrected. This happens frequently in my experience, so you are not alone. Secondly, it is fairly important to correct you on the language of the text throughout the entire concert as your entire final paragraph is at odds as a result - the language used was Italian. Perhaps this is why you found it difficult to follow the stories? I therefore don't think it is safe to presume that most of the audience did not know the (three..) story lines. In my experience as an audience member either at a baroque concert or an opera I have found it helpful to read the synopsis or libretto through before the action begins to try and absorb the essence of the drama at hand so I can enjoy the performance without worrying too much about every single word. In Handel and Porpora in particular as with other composers of the baroque period, there is no need to follow every sentence as most of them get repeated at least once if not dozens of times and a gist of the sense and emotion is all that is needed.

As a singer or a performer we have to live with the fact that whilst our concerts may be full of detail and the climax of hours of preparation they last just a moment. One hour of sweat, fear, joy and relief. Reviews and critiques that go online, however, last a lifetime...and I should hope it seems only fair that I raise these issues, being as I am someone who would never think of standing up in front of an audience to make glaring errors and expect to go unchecked.

I apologise if this sounds brusk at all. It is not meant to. Rather, I hope that in the same way that I had to go through various login and security checks just to reply in comment, that reviews online could also go through such a stringent check before publishing. More often than not, agents and promoters like to write-off online reviewing as subsidiary to newspaper and magazine reviewing; and more often than not online reviewing fails to quash this clamour.


Iestyn Davies


Fault was mine with misspelling your name, not Barnaby's who had it correctly. Cleaning up the formatting in the first paragraph I must have changed the I to L.

Corrected now.

Sorry about that both.



Thank you so much for putting me right on the language. A very silly mistake of mine. Your point on advanced reading prior to a recital or concert is, I am sure, correct. I sometimes wonder why we pay so much for a programme at the door with so much information it that it would be impossible to read prior to the start. May be one day there will be a internet link for advanced reading of the programme. I, for one, would be much better prepared. All the very best for the future.




Thank you for the reply. As you can see, I can't spell brusk either; a brusque spell-check.