SERENADE. David Daniels, countertenor. (Virgin Classics).

From the first notes of pianist Martin Katz's caressing introduction to "Adelaide," Beethoven's extended love song, we know we're in for something special. And when countertenor David Daniels joins his pianist in song, expectation gives way to wonder. Daniels' sensitivity, exceptional tone, and absolute attention to musical nuance surely place him in the front rank of contemporary singer/recitalists.

Daniels' voice, best suited for the more elegiac songs in this generous, 70-minute recital, does not fit the standard conception of "countertenor." It is full, flexible, and reminiscent of neither man nor woman. Esteemed critic John Steene's suggestion that Daniels might be best thought of as a male mezzo-soprano underscores that, with Daniels' artistry, androgyny rules.

Drop any preconception you may have about a countertenor's suitability for repertoire originally written for other voices. Daniels' singing of these 22 selections by Beethoven, Poulenc, Schubert, Gounod, Vaughan Williams, Purcell, and others creates one of the most memorable song recitals of the digital era. His interpretation of Schubert's "Nacht und Traume (Night and Dream)" ranks among the most beautiful ever recorded; his performance of Vaughan Williams' "Linden Lea and Hands," is equally moving. If you are unfamiliar with the classical song repertoire of the last three centuries, this superb disc is the perfect place to start.



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