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Handelian Pyrotechnics

William Towers (countertenor); Armonico Consort/Christopher Monks (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Handelian Pyrotechnics – Arias from Xerxes, Rinaldo, Orlando, Agrippina, Poro re dell’Indie, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Rodelinda, Radamisto, etc
William Towers (countertenor); Armonico Consort/Christopher Monks
Signum Classics SIGCD 658   60:52 mins


William Towers, one of Britain’s most experienced countertenors, here presents his first solo recording. Handelian Pyrotechnicsdelivers gorgeous music-making, if not the promised fireworks, ‘pyrotechnics’ in this context usually signifying bravura arias with long, fast passagi. Towers sings mostly slower arias of pathos. And though all of the 11 numbers are indeed by Handel, nine of them were also famous turns by star castrato Senesino.

In his particular vocal strengths, Towers is in fact closer to Senesino than any other countertenor I know. Senesino was famed for his muscle, dark timbre and jaw-dropping control of breath, line and messa di voce; his music is therefore optimal for Towers, who shares these gifts. Towers embraces signature Senesino moves – such as subtly extending the final note of a long phrase, or adding and removing vibrato from an unaccompanied sustained note – and makes them stunningly his own. The nine instrumentalists, led by Christopher Monks on the harpsichord, give Towers the space he needs, finessing their parts to suit his.

Like Senesino, Towers is slightly less assured when executing the pyrotechnics of his title. Preparing for the cadenza in a bravura aria from Orlando – a role that Senesino loathed – Towers drops into chest register, which is a bold move but sends his pitch wobbly. In ‘Al lampo dell’armi’ (Giulo Cesare), banter between singer and band is wanting, and Towers omits the flashy extemporising now standard for this number. Still, his distinctive artistry makes Handelian Pyrotechnics a gracious contribution to any collection of aria classics.

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