Hasnaa Bennani, Les Muffatti, Peter Van Heyghen
Francesca Cuzzoni was one of Handel’s greatest singers during the period of the Royal Academy of Music in the mid-to-late 1720’s and was (amongst other roles) his formidable first Cleopatra and Rodelinda. Hasnaa Bennani and Peter van Heyghen have assembled a fine collection of her ‘finest airs’, including lesser-known jewels from Ottone, Admeto, Siroe and Tolomeo along with more usual favourites from Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda.
Bennani proves a most persuasive Cuzzoni. She has the agility to throw off all the tricky coloratura with much aplomb (try the dazzling ‘Scoglio d’immota fronde’ (track 5) for example) but also the beauty of tone and dramatic expression to bring the slower arias to vivid life, ‘Se pieta’ (track 4) and ‘Se’l mio dolor’ (track 17), being particularly well done.
In some ways, however, it is the band who have unearthed the real treasure here. There is a wealth of characteristically characterful orchestral music hidden away in Handel’s operas, both in the overtures, but more particularly in the myriad sinfonias and dance movements which accompany or amplify the stage action. Van Heyghen has taken the imaginative step of combining movements to create satisfying larger orchestral units – I especially enjoyed the sequence of Tolomeo overture followed by sinfonias from Admeto and Scipione, with ringing horns fore and aft. Les Muffatti revel in Handel’s rich scorings, with fine bassoon and recorder obbligati as well as the aforementioned brass.
Well done, all concerned!