The countertenor voice seems to polarise opinion like no other - you either love it or hate it, there is little middle ground - and even amongst the aficionados (in whose number I count myself), there can be strong, almost tribal allegiances to one school or another and sometimes to individual proponents. The two on stage at the Barbican yesterday evening nearly (though not quite) represented opposing camps, but provided a perfect demonstration that there is more than sufficient room for the whole spectrum, and that working together they can bring freshness and a new perspective to well-known music: Philippe Jaroussky - one of the newer tranche, sweet voiced, wonderfully agile, lively, operatic and engaging; and Andreas Scholl, whose extraordinary talent has towered over the genre, literally and figuratively, since he exploded onto the musical scene nearly two decades ago, and whose mastery of Baroque, Renaissance and, latterly, Mediæval music and particularly of sacred music remains unsurpassed to this day. Together with Ensemble Artaserse, they treated us to an evening of Henry Purcell - 5 solos each, 5 duets and some orchestral gems.

Andreas Scholl has recently returned to Purcell, whom he describes as his "first love", but has seldom performed (or recorded) in a dedicated recital. Yet in his ~36 years, Purcell provided modern-day countertenors with an almost unrivalled range of work, from sacred anthems, incidental songs and ceremonial Odes to the semi-operas such as King Arthur (1691) and The Fairy Queen (1692) which featured prominently in this concert. It was not at all clear, however, how they divided the spoils between them; several of the classics you long to hear AS sing were taken by PJ e.g. Fairest Isle and An Evening Hymn, yet this had the advantage of leaving One Charming Night, Music for a While and O Solitude to Andreas Scholl, which he delivered with all the heart-stopping clarity and expression for which is renowned. Naturally, Mr Scholl's much greater experience of English Renaissance music was evident, but Philippe Jaroussky's astonishingly high range, warmth and charm more than compensated for some occasional word-mangling which, in any case, would be understandable even in native-English speakers, given the complexity of Purcell's texts.

The selection and order of pieces was expertly chosen, particularly in the first half, where duet alternated with solo, interspersed with the resounding Abdelazar Suite. In the slow duet In vain the am'rous flute, the two voices worked together with great delicacy and the result was particularly touching. The first session concluded with an excellent rendition of that lively countertenor duet staple Sound the Trumpet. But no sooner than one thought nothing could top the first half, the second did just that, including My dearest, my fairest, from Pausanias. It is a passionate love duet, not normally sung by two men, but it worked! Meanwhile, although the 12-piece Ensemble Artaserse took a while to get going fully, they gained momentum throughout the evening; the small group accompaniments were very well performed and the Suite of The Fairy Queen was as light, as fresh and as colourful a delivery as one could imagine.

For an encore, Andreas Scholl sang the Cold Genius Song from King Arthur transcribed, obviously, from the bass. It was a magnificent spectacle, building in range, power and expression to an almost shocking climax and then dying away to nothing. I much regret that I did not know the encore sung by Mr Jaroussky, so cannot tell you what it was, but it was followed by a reprise of their final duet, Now the Night, complete with competitive music stand raising, brief baritone interludes and much humour. Viewed dispassionately, I would not have said the two voices complemented each other especially well, and yet the two men clearly gel together and, as a result, their teamwork, enjoyment and downright enthusiasm (and the occasional bit of "hamming") set the auditorium alight. This was the first performance of the recital (Brussels and Paris to follow) and it was entirely fitting that for their opening concert they should bring their Henry Purcell home to London, where they can have been left in no doubt by the capacity audience that we were privy to a very, very special evening's music-making.