Angelo Manzotti

André Campra: Motets a une voix avec la basse-continue

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This recording of eight motets for solo voice and continuo by French Baroque composer André Campra (he called them petites motets in contrast to the grands motets that involved choral forces) definitely falls into the novelty category. Featuring liner notes by a theologian and a dedicatory quotation from Emily Dickinson, the disc was nicely recorded in a Sweden's Drottningholm Cathedral by an Italian counterenor (or, as he prefers to say, "sopranist"). The singer, Angelo Manzotti, indicates that he "has perfected a singing technique that is fundamentally different from that of traditional countertenors; rather than adopting the mechanism of falsetto for reproducing the treble voice of the castratos, he has developed through experimentation upon himself a method of allowing to vibrate when necessary only the front part of the vocal cords, thereby reducing their length to that within a woman's larynx, which is naturally shorter than a man's."

Does it work? Is he really doing what he says he's doing? Sample and judge for yourself; it's hard to recommend or criticize this disc because there's so little to compare it against. Manzotti definitely doesn't sound like other countertenors, and he does sound a bit like the last castrato, Moreschi, whose voice was preserved on records in his old age. His renderings of Campra's very Italianate treatments of sacred texts are enthusiastic, and he's worked out some vocal devices that catch your attention and don't sound remotely like anything other singers do. Keep listening until he comes to a really high note, for instance -- his registral shift is quite striking. Manzotti does not always have the pitch firmly in his sights, and his treatment of this music is distinctly under-ornamented. For those interested specifically in Campra, a recording of these works by Jacqueline Nicolas, conducted by the exacting William Christie, is a more authentic and probably better choice all around. But singers interested in stretching their voices and minds a bit might give this a listen.

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