My 2022-23 season was bookended by countertenors performing Bach cantatas and opera arias by Handel: In the fall I heard Americans Reginald Mobley and Christopher Lowrey, while at Zankel Hall on June 20th the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Principal Conductor Bernard Labadie closed its annual Bach Festival by featuring the rising English singer Hugh Cutting in a program called “The Baroque Voice.”
I missed Cutting’s local debut last spring when he previously teamed with OSL in the St. Matthew Passion, but he must have been mighty impressive for Labadie to re-engage him for a showcase concert that gave notice that Cutting is among the most promising artists of his generation.
Arts organizations in the United Kingdom must agree as Cutting won the 2021 Kathleen Ferrier Award and last year was named one of the BBC’s New Generation Artists. He spent much of the past two seasons with Les Arts Florissants’s prestigious Le Jardin des Voix, the French group’s young artist collective that over the past two decades also introduced the fine countertenors Christophe Dumaux, Xavier Sabata and Carlo Vistoli.
Although William Christie and his crop of Jardin singers used to include New York on their extensive tours, we haven’t heard them recently. So, unlike many cities we didn’t get the 2021 laureates performing Handel’s Partenope, but as small recompense Cutting roused his OSL audience to a loud and long ovation when he concluded last week’s concert with Arsace’s “Furibondo.” a dazzling coloratura showpiece in which the beleaguered hero compares his confusion to a furious wind. Cutting whizzed through its challenging roulades with apparent ease while also embracing the aria’s ABA’ structure with burning intensity.
Cutting opened the Handel second half by ardently duetting with hornist Zohar Schondorf in “Va tacito” from Giulio Cesare. But he clearly preferred playing the bad guy when he then switched from Cesare’s hero to Cleopatra’s scheming brother Tolomeo for a biting “L’empio, sleale, indegno.”
Where he had only modestly ornamented the da capo repeat of “Va tacito,” there Cutting delighted in scampering from potent highs to brusquely chesty lows. The aria gave notice that he’s bound to be a deliciously villainous Polinesso when he rejoins LAF this fall for Ariodante co-starring fellow Jardin veterans Les Desandre, Ana Vieira Leite (his Partenope) and Renato Dolcini.
Preceded by Avi Stein’s efficient tackling of the finger-twisting organ solo in cantata Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal’s sinfonia, the concert’s first half was dominated by Cutting’s radiantly impassioned Vergnügte Ruh. Labadie suggested in his brief opening remarks that Bach likely wrote his few solo alto cantatas for an anonymous Leipzig lad whose voice was likely threatening to change at any moment. Cutting’s boyishly rapt reading recaptured the eager, earnest involvement that must have inspired Bach in 1726.
Throughout the evening, Labadie sensitively accompanied his singer by drawing vibrantly incisive playing from his modern-instrument band. Stein and Robert Wolinsky collaborated eloquently in the double-organ obbligato to Vergnügte Ruh’s haunting second aria. Throughout the stirring Handel half, I kept wondering why Labadie isn’t invited to conduct one of the composer’s operas at the Met.
For those who missed his consistently delightful OSL concert, Cutting can be heard on a pair of beguiling Purcell Ode recordings for the Vivat label. His partner on both is Iestyn Davies who faltered in his recent Handel Labadie/OSL encounter.
Davies and Harry Bicket, the Met’s Handel conductor-in-residence, return to Carnegie Hall for Rodelinda in December.
But I wonder why we need to hear Bicket and Davies perform a work on which they collaborated just last year at the Met. Likely they’re eager to sell copies of their Rodelinda CD—which didn’t much impress me.
When Davies and Bicket performed Rinaldo here five years ago, the show was neatly stolen by Jakob Josef Orlinski in a supporting role. suspect Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, another superb young tri-named countertenor, may well do the same as Rodelinda’s Unulfo.
Who knows when we’ll again hear Cutting (or his tenor brother Guy, for that matter), but two years ago Hugh performed Davies’s Rodelinda role of Bertarido which can be watched here.
Photos: Jennifer Taylor