FALVETTI Il Diluvio Universale
Michelangelo Falvetti, maestro di cappella at Messina Cathedral during the 1680s, is almost as obscure a figure as you can get in these Baroque-hungry days. Yet this disc is not just some worthy exhumation but the rehabilitation of a composition bursting with imagination and gripping drama. Frankly, it is hard to believe it has lain unheard for so long – I even spent a while wondering if it was real.
Il diluvio universale is a sacred ‘dialogue’ oratorio, in which there is no joined-up narrative but in which the soloists and chorus take roles in a sequence of dramatic tableaux. The subject is the Flood, and the cast includes God, Noah and his wife and a chorus of drowning folk, as well as Death, Divine Justice, Human Nature and the Four Elements. The musical language calls to mind both Cavalli and Alessandro Scarlatti but the treatment of the various scenes – which include the Elements conjuring a storm, beautiful and tender love music for the pious Noah and Jad, a terrifying depiction of the deluge in which the voices of the drowned break off into cries and shouts, and a sinisterly gleeful dance of Death – are treated with the disarming directness of a medieval narrative painting. There is indeed something ‘other’ about this piece, a hint of some ancient energy that perhaps reflects how Sicily itself differs from the rest of Italy.
The performers make the most of the lovely present they have been handed, with Leonardo García Alarcón leading a committed and compelling reading which revels in the music’s freedom of dramatic expression. There are some lovely solo contributions from Fernando Guimarães as Noah and Mariana Flores as Rad, and the lusty choir and orchestra are totally engaged. I confess I don’t quite understand why Arabic percussion has been added, but this thrilling release proves that Baroque music can still hold a few surprises yet.