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Nathalie Stutzmann: "Quella Fiamma"

CD Button Orfeo 55, Stutzmann. Texts and translations. Erato 0190295765293

Recordings Quella Fiamma Cover 318
Critics Choice Button 1015 

THE WELL-ESTABLISHED French contralto Nathalie Stutzmann has had a second career as a conductor. Her work has been very impressive, as is this new CD, on which she both sings and leads the superb, stylistically flexible ensemble Orfeo 55. The trove of what we term “arie antiche”—Baroque vocal pieces including opera arias, songs and the rare prayer—was researched and adapted for piano by Alessandro Parisotti (1853–1913), a Vatican-trained composer and scholar who studied voice alongside the last castratos. He intended the three-volume collection—which included his own pastiche “Se tu m’ami,” masquerading as a Pergolesi song—as teaching materials for singers in training. They are still familiar as such, though in public performance Parisotti’s versions tend to be relegated to warm-ups and encores.

Several members of Orfeo 55 did some of the musicological research to find the original orchestrations of the pieces that are presented here, setting this traversal apart from Cecilia Bartoli’s early, magical reclaiming of Parisotti’s piano-accompanied versions; they’re equally revelatory. Stutzmann’s account of nineteen restorations starts where Bartoli’s CD did, with Alessandro Scarlatti’s melisma-rich “Già il sole dal Gange,” originally from Scarlatti’s L’Honestà negli Amori (1680). The differences in composer and adapter’s treatment of text setting and syllabic periods are immediately evident. Here and elsewhere, the original as interpreted by Stutzmann sounds far more improvisatory. Yet the approach to the materials varies: she follows Parisotti’s low-voiced variants—not Handel’s intentions—in pitching Alcina’s “Ah! mio cor” and Cleopatra’s “Piangerò.”

Stutzmann’s instrument is sui generis. It has mellowed since her stylish but not always dulcet first recordings. Her musical crafting of phrases and sage decoration remain well-honed and exemplary. The more I listened, the more attractive I found her singing. The Baroque incarnation of Orfeo 55, which also plays more modern music, here includes strings (including theorbo and guitar), oboe, bassoon, harp, harpsichord and organ. Under Stutzmann’s judicious guidance, its playing is springy, alert and without the “cat-gut” tone some early-music bands produce. The continuo instruments and solo players in the several concerto movements among the disc’s six instrumental tracks do strong work. —David Shengold 

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