A conductor as well as a singer, the French contralto Nathalie Stutzmann founded her own chamber ensemble, Orfeo 55, in 2009. Their first album together for Erato is this splendid Handel recital, in which Stutzmann directs her orchestra in sinfonias from his operas as well as singing arias associated with some of his secondary characters – shadowy figures such as Rosmira in Partenope and Irene in Tamerlano, to whom, she argues, Handel frequently allots his best music. Not everyone, I suspect, shares my enthusiasm for Stutzmann’s dark, androgynous voice. But there’s no mistaking either her musicianship or her commitment here, while Orfeo 55, clearly a force to be reckoned with, play superbly for her. High points – and there are quite a few – include the duet for Cornelia and Sesto from Giulio Cesare, in which she is joined by the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, and Senti Bell’ Idol Mio from Silla, which has a theorbo obbligato to die for, beautifully played by Michele Pasotti.
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