We owe the recent proliferation of Handel recitals primarily to countertenors and mezzos, so Christopher Purves's disc of bass arias makes a refreshing surprise. Handel's writing for bass is often described as samey, the result of his association of the voice with thugs, tyrants and lechers, a criticism that Purves shows to be untrue. We've heard warmer voices in Handel, but Purves is a fine vocal actor, and we're continuously aware of the variety of Handel's style and the sharpness of his characterisation. The great moments are those in which the singing reveals the depths of Handel's psychological insight, above all in a scene from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, in which the monster Polifemo is suddenly shown to have immense nobility of soul. There's wonderful playing from Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen, too.
Tim Ashley is a Guardian classical and opera critic, though he's also keen on literature and philosophy so you might sometimes find him cross-referencing all three. His work has also appeared in Literary Review and Opera magazine and he is author of a biography of Richard Strauss