Nathalie Stutzmann / Orfeo 55 BACH Une Cantate Imaginaire
Stutzmann has a unique voice, one which hasn’t always appealed to me. However, she uses it to good effect here. Her fruity, sometimes throaty contralto has a unique colour that sets it apart. In a world where proper contraltos are becoming an endangered species, it’s good to have a singer of her artistry who embraces the register. She is at her best in the lower writing, though, and some of the high notes in the third track (from BWV 133) don’t flatter her at all. The mellow textures of Bist du bei mir find her at her best, though, even though the notes admit that this aria isn’t by Bach at all. She brings excellent command of coloratura to many of the arias, most notably BWV 74, and she shows that the skill can be just as thrilling in a low voice as in a high one. She uses her vocal tone to particularly haunting effect in the famous Erbarme dich from the St Matthew Passion, and I enjoyed the supplicatory tone of Vergiss mein nicht, which is sung to the accompaniment of only a solo lute.
Another interesting point about the disc is that Stutzmann directs her own chamber ensemble while singing. Orfeo 55 make a lovely sound, lithe and flexible with great rhythmic bounce, and they’re shown off to their finest effect in the Sinfonia that opens the disc. The bass can be a little heavy at times, though, and this damages the famous “Air on a G string” in particular. They bring a tremendous sense of swing to BWV 174, otherwise known as the first movement of Brandenburg 3 with added winds, though not everyone will love the occasional rhythmic distortion inserted for added effect. The wind textures are a particular delight in BWV 18, though the strings show up Christ lag in Todesbanden as a Sinfonia of daring harmonic invention. The various instrumental solos, all of which are credited in the liner notes, are fantastic, the highlight for me being the cello in Jesus ist ein guter Hirt. The Mikaeli Kammarkör make a clean, if somewhat underwhelming contribution to two tracks, and they take Jesus bleibet at a much slower tempo than we have become used to hearing nowadays. (MusicWeb International)