In sporting parlance, the "dream-team" of countertenor Iestyn Davies and Richard Egarr at the harpsichord came together last night for a Wigmore Hall concert held to mark the 10 years directorship of John Gilhooly, and was the perfect representation of his decade at the helm: singer + harpsichord, immaculate programming, consummate musicianship, scholarship, unheard-of treasures, blended with a dash of the better known.

Marco Borggreve
Marco Borggreve

I freely confess that I had barely heard of the obscure early 17th Century Italian composers whose works made up the first half (Ferrari, Kapsberger, Frescobaldi, Cesti and Merula) let alone any of the pieces themselves, and I venture to suggest that I was by no means in the minority of the capacity audience in that respect. The evening started with a lament Voglio di vita uscir by Ferrari which, despite its opening line "I want to depart this life", was light, touching and surprisingly cheerful. In contrast, Merula's lengthy lullaby Canzonetta spirituale alla nanna was oddly unsettling with its variety of moods, rhythms and cadences, all beautifully rendered by Iestyn Davies, with a captivating intimacy. Together with the other laments and anguished arias, they also demonstrated clearly his enchanting voice, including a strong, even, lower register and that "column of sound" so desirable in a countertenor. And it all seemed so relaxed and effortless - a comment I heard numerous times during the interval.

For the second half, we were on slightly more familiar ground, with Porpora (who seems to be undergoing something of a revival), Handel and Vivaldi, though, again, the works were from the lesser known repertoire. These Iestyn Davies sang from memory, which gave added drama as he launched into powerful recitative, followed by a passionate Handelian-like aria and unleashed his glorious coloratura, unseen hitherto. And then things got even better with Vivaldi's cantata Painti, sospiri which was simply stunning and delivered with verve, wit and the technical assurance of a man whose time has come. Without any hint of arrogance or pomposity - indeed quite the opposite, with a still-youthful charm and presence - Iestyn Davies just commands the stage and lets his voice take over. It's clear why the world's leading opera houses are booking him for years ahead, although his graceful words about the Wigmore Hall, its Director and its patrons, lend hope that he will not be deserting the recital circuit.

An entire concert of harpsichord accompaniment can sometimes seem rather bland, but certainly not here, where Richard Egarr's lively, flowing work at the keyboard provided both the foundation and the springboard for the singer. Furthermore, in another delightful feat of scheduling, Mr Egarr gave us a spirited rendition of Handel's Suite in D minor, which showed a remarkable variety of form and extent, requiring great virtuosity and building momentum throughout for a staggeringly fast and varied concluding Presto.

The evening concluded with two sung encores: Handel, of course, an aria from Partenope, and then a simple, plaintive, Irish folk song (in honour of Mr Gilhooly), where the exquisitely-sung, unaccompanied, last verse generated a deafening silence in the Hall. In short, Mr Gilhooly, whose party it was, chose brilliantly and in turn was similarly rewarded. It was a privilege to be there.