The vocal qualities of a good falsettist are distinctively "masculine" and instantly recognizable. How much they might sound like the revered operatic castrati of the High Baroque is a matter of conjecture, but the observations of 17th and 18th Century essayists suggest that 'cognoscenti' heard significant differences. Naturally high tenors and falsettists had flourished in the 16th Century repertoire of madrigals and chamber cantatas, and they persisted in performances of that repertoire despite the meteoric rise to popularity of the castrati in opera. In fact, the canons of vocal technique and manner were different in chamber music from those in opera. A "chamber" falsettist was expected to be genteel, dignified, aloof from theatrical grimacing and gesturing -- all music and no drama if you will, precisely the opposite of the flamboyant castrati. By the mid 18th Century, the prestige of falsettists was seemingly at its low ebb, while the castrati flourished well into the early 19th C. This CD is a program of "canzone e cantate da camera," of works for chamber performance rather than for the opera stage, by composers from Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) to Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), by way of the ultimate masters of "camera" composition Antonio Vivaldi and Georg Friedrich Händel.
If countertenors as a sub-species lack an important adaptation to the musical environment of the Baroque, it's their lack of dynamics in volume. That weakness was noted disparagingly by the musician Pietro della Valle in writing in 1640: "The art of piano and forte singing was alien to them, as was the gradual crescendo and diminuendo ..." The criticism is still appropriate for all but a tiny number of countertenors today, and it applies to Franco Fagioli as well. In compensation, countertenors of our times have focused their technical efforts on perfect pitch control, exquisite embellishment, and virtuosic agility in singing rapid passagi. Those are the skills that Franco Fagioli exhibits in this recital, and they are impressive skills indeed. Fagioli is one of the elite young countertenors of his generation, along with Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic,Valer Barna-Sabadus and Yuriy Mynenko, all of whom can be heard together in the recording of Leonardo Vinci's opera Artaserse. Vinci L'Artaserse Jaroussky, by the way, is the exception among countertenors in his command of dynamics and messa di voce.
If you've heard a lot of the performances of older countertenors like Michael Chance and David Daniels, you may be surprised by the vibrato prominent in Fagioli's technique, a style that distinguishes him from the angelically pure timbres of Jaroussky. Fagioli uses his vibrato both artfully and expressively; I suspect that some listeners will love it and some will not.
Fagioli is supported in this musica da camera by a fabulously sensitive basso continuo: Jörg Halubek on harpsichord, Luca Pianca on lute, and Marco Frezzato on cello. The lutenist and the harpsichordist each contribute elegant solos to the program, while the cellist is featured in the four-movement "Sonate in a-Moll" by Francesco Geminiani, a work that makes gorgeous use of the cello's lowest strings.
I note that this excellent CD is currently unavailable on amazon.com except at a scalper's price. You can find it at a better price through one of the European amazons, or from another seller such as Dussmann Kultur Haus of Berlin.