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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Il diluvio universale
Leonardo García Alarcón, cond; Namur CCh; Cappella Mediterranea (period instruments)
AMBRONAY 026 (64:35
Text and Translation)
Few people have probably ever heard of Michelangelo Falvetti (1643–92), who received his training in the city of Messina. In 1670 he was made
maestro di cappella
at the main cathedral in his home town of Palermo, but in 1682 he obtained a similar post back
in Messina. His activities as a composer remain relatively obscure, given that Sicily is far from being the most researched musical place in Italy, but nonetheless he was apparently extremely active as a composer of the early oratorio there, where no fewer than about a dozen compositions survive. The reason for his move to Messina is also not known, particularly since the Spanish overlords of the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies had punished the city severely for an act of rebellion not too long before. What is known is that this work, whose plot involves the Flood, was composed about 1680 for Messina, and the booklet notes postulate that the subject matter may have been a pointed commentary on the retribution of the Spanish.
In any case, conductor Leonardo García Alarcón has once more come forth with an excellent find, a work that is probably one of the most interesting among 17th-century oratorios for its brilliant compositional style. In creating this recording, he also had to do some considerable work, combining a libretto by Sicilian poet Vincenzo Giattini (1630–97) and a manuscript score, the former found in Venice and the latter in Messina. Since the score provides neither instrumentation nor characterization, this combination was an absolute necessity in order for the work to be performed and recorded. Fortunately, the text does say what was used, but García Alarcón augments the strings and sundry odd winds with a full ensemble, including a complete brass section of cornettos and sackbuts, various plucked instruments, and, to provide the various raindrops heralding the catastrophic storm, Arabic-inspired percussion instruments. Whether this larger setting was Falvetti’s intent is a good question, but the forces here provide for an exciting production.
The plot, such as it is, has Divine Justice, evidently someone other than God, gathering the four elements to wreak vengeance upon a sinful Earth. As these spirits gather strength, the clouds “declare war” in a turbulent chorus in which the vocal lines run around, over, and through each other in a masterly counterpoint that pushes the limits of choral agility. On Earth, Noah and his wife, Rad, await the coming tide in their dark ark, when suddenly God appears and tells them thunderously that he will destroy everything. They meekly obey His will in a duet. After a storm symphony, Death and Human Nature appear to carry off the deceased, and in the end Mr. and Mrs. Noah praise God for his mercy. As texts go, it is certainly one of the more unusual librettos of the period, filled with words that almost demand a colorful score. Falvetti provides this with carefully constructed lyrical lines that alternate between skirling string figures as the various tempests unfold. As God appears, there is a sepulchral organ with thunder in the background that complements his stentorian bass. This leads to a sprightly dancelike “Si mie potenze armatevi,” in which he declares the impending destruction, almost as though he is looking forward to the chaos. In the third part, the symphony begins with single notes on a lute like raindrops that increase in intensity before an apocalyptic chorus replete with thunder and lightning depicts the final storm. Falvetti even uses a tarantella for Death’s final aria, a true medieval dance.
The performance itself is mesmerizing, with the special effects making it more than just a revival of an obscure work. Matteo Bellotto’s vibrant God shakes the rafters, while Fabián Schofrin’s countertenor lends a gleeful touch to Death’s triumph. The sopranos are all right on pitch, especially Mariana Flores as Rad and Caroline Weynants as Human Nature. Given that the movements are very short, morphing into each other with ease, there is little time to develop the characters fully. Rather, they are like momentary players on a larger stage. García Alarcón’s direction is lively and sensitive to the often tortuous lines. The Cappella Mediterranea and Namur Chamber Choir complete an extremely fine performance. The overall Spanish atmosphere created by the percussion may not really have been what Falvetti intended, but it works exceedingly well here. This one may make my annual Want List.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
Il diluvio universale by Michelangelo Falvetti
Keyvan Chemirani (Zarb),
Fernando Guimaraes (Tenor),
Fabian Schofrin (Counter Tenor),
Matteo Bellotto (Bass),
Magali Arnault (Soprano),
Caroline Weynants (Soprano),
Mariana Flores (Soprano),
Evelyn Ramirez Munoz (Alto)
Leonardo Garcia Alarcon
Namur Chamber Choir,
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
1682 and Into the Future! September 9, 2012
By G. Duncan (Boston, MA) See All My Reviews
"This is hands down, one extraordinary find from Leonardo Garcia Alarcon and his recording of this long lost masterpiece is mesmerizing. I have no idea if the composer ever envisioned the likes of the Namur Chamber Choir, and the Cappella Mediterranea, but I'll bet the performers singing God, Death, Noah, and his Wife did have their equals back in 1682 when this piece was first performed. Most likely castratos performed the Wife as well as Death, perhaps one of the Elements as well. However we are indeed lucky to have the performances on this CD of Matteo Bellotto singing God at the outset with a voice strongly suggesting God's wrath with mankind per the Old Testament. Fernando Guimaraes is striking as Noah, the soprano Mariana Flores as his wife Rad is indeed right on pitch, and the counter tenor Fabian Schofrin is simply wonderful as the ultimately gleeful Death. And that is not to ignore the others singing the roles of Nature and the elements, all very fine indeed. And speaking of elements, who could have guessed the amazing special effects Michelangelo Falvetti wrote in this score way back then! What a treat. What a listen!!"
Music of the Future from 1682 July 17, 2012
By Donald J O'Connor (Kreamer, PA) See All My Reviews
"I'm one of those people who normally thinks real music began with Beethoven or Berlioz, but this work just knocked me over. Some of its musical illustrating is a century and a half ahead of its time and would earned Richard Strauss' praise. The way, e. g., Falvetti builds the deluge's rainfall at first drop by drop, then gradually accumulating is simply beyond what we think of as that period's range of responsiveness. The choral work is emotionally powerful, the solo singers are spectacular in their handling of their ornamental flourishes and the orchestra really makes an impact. At first, I was taken aback with Death being a countertenor doing a tarantella, but musically speaking, he's literally dancing over the graves of the dead, thus another expressive coup. I can only wonder if more of Falvetti is this good. "