Cecilia Bartoli; William Christie; Veronique Gens; Jean Rondeau: when was the last time you saw a starrier list of cameos? The quality of the supporting line-up says everything about the talent that’s centre-stage here in this first solo recital from French-Italian mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre. A recent graduate of Christie’s Jardin des Voix, Desandre’s star is already very much risen. This release cements the singer an exceptional talent, whose mezzo – now silvery, soprano-light, now darkly chested and broad – is a startling shapeshifter, whose scope is, if anything, exceeded by her dramatic range. Comparisons with Bartoli are inevitable.

Lea Desandre

Desandre has enlisted the services of Yannis Francois (whose research lies behind many of the most interesting recent albums from Orlinski, Jaroussky and de Bique) to pull together a program dominated by world premiere recordings. Repertoire by Destouches, Schurmann, Vivaldi, Pallavicino and others straddles the junction of the 18th century, united by the idea of the Amazon.

Desandre plays with the concept’s ambiguity – embracing both the mythic female warriors and the natural world in which they triumph. Birds trill, streams babble and trees rustle in accompaniments of cinematic precision from lutenist Thomas Dunford and his 14-piece Jupiter ensemble who seem to play on the balls of their feet.

The interplay of tone, texture and gesture is breath-taking. Desandre has the instincts of a chamber musician allied to a soloist’s formidable technique. Runs sizzle, trills tumble liquid-smooth, and legato lines throb with emotion, lending stature to this glittering collection of (largely) unknowns. It’s a shame the sleeve notes tell us so little about these unfamiliar heroines, but scarcely matters as Desandre and her collaborators make each live so fully. A real must-listen. 

Available on Apple Music

Composer: Vivaldi, Destouches, De Bottis et al
Works: Arias for mezzo-soprano
Performers: Lea Desandre, Thomas Dunford, Jupiter
Label: Erato  9029506584