‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

But, with their recent
production of J.C. Bach’s Adriano in Siria at the Royal College of
Music fresh in my mind and now this superb presentation of arias and
instrumental pieces by Handel, Boyce, Arne and John Christopher Smith at the
Wigmore Hall — in which Classical Opera were partnered by tenor Allan
Clayton, a former Classical Opera Associate Artist — there seems little to

The programme celebrated the 300th birthday of John Beard (1715-1791), the
tenor who created more Handelian roles than any other singer of his day.
Brought up in the Chapel Royal, after his debut in Il Pastor fido in
1734 Beard became Handel’s tenor of choice for the next thirty years, singing
in many of the composer’s operas and oratorios. Some have made great claims
for Beard, Winton Dean remarking that ‘The whole direction of the English
oratorio was changed by his choice of Beard’s tenor voice for the part of
Samson’, and others suggesting that his high technical ability and
intelligent acting raised the profile of the tenor voice and shunted opera’s
traditional ‘soprano hero’ into the side-lines.

This was a demanding programme but Clayton exhibited a relaxed demeanour
throughout, somewhat diffident even. He demonstrated great stamina and
diversity: as the programme led us on a chronological tour through Beard’s
career, Clayton’s appealing tenor was by turns sweetly soothing, poignantly
imploring and vigorously rousing. He used dynamics and registers with acute
sensitivity and skill, and his quiet singing was particularly beautiful. His
tenor is fairly light and climbs easily with no sense of strain, but it is
flexible too and in the passages requiring virtuosic agility it had both
litheness and focus. Clayton’s diction, too, was excellent.

All of these qualities were immediately apparent in the opening item,
Silvio’s aria ‘Sol nel mezzo risona del core’ (The very core of my heart
calls me) from Il Pastor fido. The long melodic lines of the first
section were mellifluous and fluid, with octave leaps cleanly negotiated and
well-judged swells of intensity, while the more vigorous passages in the
central episode were precise rendered. Clayton’s open tone and easy manner
conveyed perfectly the warm candidness of a young man whose heart will soon be
turned from hunting hounds to seeking love. The Orchestra of Classical Opera,
led superbly and with calm confidence by Matthew Truscott, provided an elegant
but unobtrusive accompaniment, engaging sensitively with the voice in passages
of gentle imitation.

Greater experience and passion coloured ‘Tu vivi, e punito’ from
Handel’s Ariodante, in which Lurcanio pleads with his brother,
Ariodante, not to kill himself after he has witnessed Polinesso entering the
chambers of his betrothed, Ginevra. Here, Clayton’s tone was more vibrant,
the vibrato faster, and the tenor’s line was complemented by bright
Vivaldi-like sequences in the violins. The words were crisply enunciated, the
phrases culminating in lengthy melismatic runs requiring considerable control
and dexterity. Careful thought and skilful breathing were also much in evidence
in ‘Un momento di contento’ (A single moment of happiness), Oronte’s
final aria from Alcina, in which the general recognises that he cannot
resist the lure of the unfaithful but repentant Morgana. Here, Clayton
sustained the long lines beautifully, shaping the repeatedly rising motifs into
coherent phrases expressing Oronte’s hopes and doubts, first assertive, then
reticent. Clayton conveyed the character’s poise and dignity, the major key
evoking a quiet pathos as the violins skipped delicately through the triplet

Similarly agile finger-work in the strings together with springiness in the
voice conveyed the optimism of Fabio in ‘Vedi l’ape che ingegnosa’ from
Handel’s Berenice, in which the Roman ambassador ties to persuade
Alessandro to forget his unrequited love for Berenice and turn his attentions
to her sister. Clayton’s entreating swells were persuasive and Page inspired
his players to dance through the running passages airily. ‘Thus when the sun
from’s wat’ry bed’ from Samson concluded the first half, in
which the eponymous hero finally yields to the Israelites’ demands that he
must repair to the feast of Dagon to delight the Philistines with some of his
feats of strength. In the recitative, Page established a mood of unrest and
anger, but the ensuing aria was solemn and poignant, a slow, warm, throbbing
accompaniment the perfect foil to Clayton’s dignified, firm vocal line. It
was, however, the preceding item — ‘Softly rise, o southern breeze’ from
William Boyce’s ‘serenata’ Solomon — that most moved me in the
first half of the programme. The work is a frankly amorous exchange between two
pastoral characters named simply ‘He’ and ‘She’, and in this sensuous
aria — which followed a robust, racing Sinfonia and sensuous recitative —
Clayton’s subtle expression complemented by a lovely, sultry bassoon solo
resulted in an enchanting lyricism.

After the interval, Clayton made a striking impression in Jupiter’s
‘Where’er you walk, from Handel’s Semele, his voice as beguiling
and tender as the soothing Arcadian scene which the God has summoned up to
assuage the petulance of his discontented mortal beloved, Semele. This was a
perfect blend of voice and instruments. The tenor showed us his diversity of
colour and characterisation as the anguished Jephtha who must sacrifice his
daughter, Iphis, to honour a vow before God; after a tormented recitative, in
Jephtha’s prayer ‘Waft her, angels, through the skies’ Clayton employed a
beautiful, whispered head voice and negotiated the large
leaps in the vocal line with elegance. ‘Call forth thy pow’rs’ from
Judas Maccabeus was characterised by unflagging energy and excellent
communication of the text.

It was not Handel, however, who brought the programme to a close, but music
by his contemporaries Thomas Arne and John Christopher Smith. The overture to
Arne’s Alfred was bright and Italianate, Truscott and his fellow
violinists demonstrating an impeccable appreciation of the fioritura
style (and some astonishingly skilful bowing and co-ordination) as Page
expertly guided the exchanges between strings and woodwind. Sprung rhythms were
brisk and buoyant, and the natural horns were confident and true. In ‘From
the dawn of early morning’, Clayton showed considerable stamina, despatching
the rapid scalic runs with ease and conveying stirring patriotism and loyalty
as Alfred the Great swears eternal devotion to his wife, Eltruda.

Similar strength and control were evident in ‘Thou, like the glorious
sun’ from Arne’s Artaxerses. After the death of his first wife,
the aristocrat Lady Henrietta Herbert, Beard marriage Charlotte Rich, daughter
of John Rich the actor-manager in charge of London’s Covent Garden Theatre.
It was a prudent move for upon Rich’s death, Beard stepped into his
father-in-law’s managerial shoes and set about increasing the number of
operas performed at Drury Lane, and commissioning new works from his composer
friends. Thomas Arne contributed two new operas to the repertoire in 1762,
Love in a Village and Artaxerses; in the latter Beard took
the role of Artabanes, who in this aria, having been forced to condemn his own
son to death, regrets the suffering he has caused and promises to save Arbaces
and reward and crown him. From the evidence of this aria, Beard must have
retained his vocal prowess to the end of his career and, despite a challenging
evening Clayton was more than equal to its demands, demonstrating excellent
enunciation, firm tone and well-supported breathing. ‘Hark, hark, how the
hounds and horn’ from John Christopher Smith’s The Fairies
based upon A Midsummer Night’s Dream and first performed at Drury
Lane in 1755 — called forth rousing rhythms from the horns and sturdy
sustained singing from Clayton.

Deafness curtailed Beard’s career, and in 1767 he sold his share in Covent
Garden and retired, though it is reported that as late as 1790 he could be seen
in the audience at Drury Lane, equipped with an ear-trumpet. Allan Clayton’s
technical accomplishments and artistic insight suggest that his career may
match Beard’s for acclaim and longevity.

Claire Seymour

Artists and programme:

Classical Opera; Allan Clayton tenor; Ian Page director. Wigmore
Hall, London, Wednesday 6th May 2015.

Handel: Overture to Esther, ‘Sol nel mezzo risona del
core’ (Il pastor fido), Sinfonia and ‘Tu vivi e punito’ (
Ariodante), ‘Un momento di contento’ (Alcina), ‘Vedi
l’ape che ingegnosa’ (Berenice); Boyce: Sinfonia and ‘Softly rise,
O southern breeze!’ (Solomon); Handel: ‘Thus when the sun from’s
wat’ry bed’ ( Samson), ‘Where’er you walk’
(Semele), ‘Call forth thy pow’rs, my soul’ (Judas
), ‘Waft her, angels’ (Jephtha); Arne: Overture and
‘From the dawn of early morning’ (Alfred); John Christopher Smith:
‘Hark how the hounds and horn’ (The Fairies): Arne: ‘Thou like the
glorious sun’ (Artaxerxes).

image_description=Allan Clayton [Photo by White Label Productions]
product_title=‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Allan Clayton [Photo by White Label Productions]