Countertenor Iestyn Davies appeared with lutenist Thomas Dunford, a frequent partner, in a memorable recital at the Kennedy Center. (Chris Sorensen) Part of the enduring appeal of countertenors is the persistent disconnect between the way they sound and the way they look. Iestyn Davies exploited this to great effect in his marvelous recital Tuesday night for Vocal Arts DC at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Speaking to the audience between numbers, explaining the premise of a program that juxtaposed music by the great English composers Purcell, Dowland and Handel with French and German ones, Davies exhibited both intellect and dry wit. \u201cIt\u2019s timely,\u201d he said, \u201cthat this program celebrating England\u2019s Orpheus also celebrates what we now know and hope to keep as Europe.\u201d (Cue laughter from an audience presumably well versed in the ongoing saga of Brexit.) Then Davies broke straight back into song with his arresting voice, its sound at once otherworldly and rich, dense and thin, with the clarity and heavy sweetness of plum wine \u2014 not quite a woman\u2019s, but certainly not what we associate with a man\u2019s. Davies is one of today\u2019s leading countertenors, an increasingly crowded field, and he showed why in a varied and engaging program that included songs by Dowland, arias by Handel and, for the second encore, Eric Clapton\u2019s \u201cTears From Heaven,\u201d challenging another perceptual boundary, the idea that this kind of voice is effective only in so-called classical music. To call this recital Davies\u2019s is a misnomer, because he shared the stage with the lutenist Thomas Dunford, once styled a teen lute star, who was if anything even more mesmerizing. Louis XIV, he explained to the audience, used to fall asleep to the playing of his own court lutenist, Robert de Vis\u00e9e, and he proceeded to play two pieces by de Vis\u00e9e and Marin Marais that were hypnotic enough to threaten to carry half of the audience into somnolence, the music weaving its own dream-spell like a thread of drugged and perfumed smoke. Dunford played with such ease and fluidity that he made Bach\u2019s first cello suite, its movements interspersed with songs by the three \u201cOrpheuses\u201d on the program\u2019s second half, sound completely idiomatic and almost as if it were being stroked by a bow rather than plucked with light fingers over the strings. He replicated Handel\u2019s orchestra with equal ease, accompanying Davies in \u201cOmbra cara\u201d and \u201cO Lord, Whose Mercies Numberless,\u201d the latter from \u201cSaul\u201d and radiating an air of simple heroism. The song selection was full of jewels, from such well-known pieces as Purcell\u2019s \u201cSweeter Than Roses\u201d and \u201cMusic for a While\u201d to a self-aggrandizing hymn of praise to Handel\u2019s talent that Handel set, clearly enjoying the spirit of the thing yet not lingering unduly over its exaggerated praise. In a Dowland set on the first half, \u201cFlow My Tears\u201d stood out for its caressing invocation of sadness: a song about depression rather than despair, with a sweet, overpowering heaviness characteristic of this program. The final song, Purcell\u2019s \u201cAn Evening Hymn,\u201d continued the theme of the bedtime song, giving the audience permission to release into sleep with increasingly gentle \u201cHallelujahs\u201d before rousing them enough to leave with two bracing encores of more recent vintage, Ralph Vaughan Williams\u2019s \u201cOrpheus With His Lute\u201d and the Clapton piece as a bracing and contrasting send-off.