A Scarlatti Humanità e Lucifero
Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante continue their valuable exploration of Alessandro Scarlatti’s sacred vocal music with the oratorio Humanita e Lucifero. The piece, which here receives its first recording, dates from 1704 when it was performed at the Collegio Nazareno in Rome on the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The text belongs to the oratorio volgare type, that is to say it’s written in the Italian vernacular, more widely understood than Latin. It takes the form of a dispute between Humanity – who celebrates the birth of the Virgin – and Lucifer, who struggles with her for supremacy. Eventually, Lucifer recognizes that in Humanity he has more than met his match and he returns to Lake Avernus and the nether regions “neither prince nor king”. The imagery evoked by the unidentified librettist is charmingly naive and sometimes colourful, both aspects of which are characteristically capitalized upon by Scarlatti.
This is a vibrant score of instant melodic and harmonic appeal, very well sung by Rossana Bertini (Humanity) and marginally less so by Massimo Crispi (Lucifer). Bertini has a particularly bright vocal timbre which suits her role admirably. Her intonation is deadly accurate and her performance radiates light throughout. Crispi is more variable in the success with which he negotiates some of Scarlatti’s exacting passagework. The voice is less refined in tone quality than Bertini’s and, while this is appropriate to his Stygian role, there is a tendency towards bluster which adversely affects tonal focus.
The music itself holds the attention throughout and, as so often with Scarlatti, there are moments of outstanding beauty, enhanced by delicate scoring perhaps for solo violin, cello or sopranino recorder. In contrast with these delicate touches are passages of resonant scoring for solo trumpet. In short the piece is rich in variety of tonal colour as well as other subtler expressive ideas. I also found the insertion of two trio sonatas by Scarlatti’s contemporary, Corelli, from Opp. 3 and 4 affecting in context. They are sensitively played by Biondi and his instrumentalists who bring a rare sense of poetry to the slow movements.
In summary, this is a rewarding issue and one which readers so far unacquainted with Scarlatti’s vocal music are likely to find a very enjoyable introduction. Recorded sound is excellent and full texts with translations are included.'