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This is the second work by the Calabrian composer Michelangelo Falvetti (1642-92) to be recorded in recent years - the first being Falvetti: Il diluvio universale (Cappella Mediterranea/Alarcon) a couple of years ago. Once again it's brought to us by the superb Cappella Mediterranea early music ensemble under their inspirational director Leonardo García Alarcón. "Il Dialogo del Nabucco" of 1683 is a Biblical oratorio or sacred dialogue, telling the story from the Book of Daniel of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, the prophet Daniel, and the three young Jews Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The three youths, named in the Italian text as Anania, Misaele and Azaria, refuse to worship a golden statue of Nabucco; they are thrown into a burning fiery furnace, but emerge from the flames unharmed.

The extraordinarily inventive Falvetti applies a wide variety of musical forms, sounds and techniques to the telling of this drama-laden story. The beautiful, mesmerising instrumental introduction, delightfully scored in Alarcón's interpretation, soon gives way to a lovely duet (tracks 2 and 4) for two sopranos, representing Pride and Idolatry, who are then joined by bass Matteo Bellotto (River Euphrates) and by the chorus, the Choeur de Chambre de Namur - a powerful, expressive and at times vehement protagonist throughout the work, as they were in "Il diluvio". Other participants in the drama - in addition to Nabucco, Daniel and the three youths (sung by three sopranos, of whom more in a moment) - are captain of the king's guard Anocio, and the instrumental ensemble who frequently intervene with lovely and effective Sinfonie as the action develops.

One remarkable passage comes in the trio "Splenda pure al pari del Sole" (26) where the three youths openly mock Nabucco and his statue, laughing as they sing - and there's a charming photo in the booklet showing the three sopranos doing just that. Naturally Nabucco is somewhat peeved at this and, as the youths continue to goad the king, the music dramatically depicts Nabucco's transformation from attempted tolerance to increasing fury (27-31), with his chorus of acolytes vehemently adding their support. In contrast, the furnace scene itself brings us a succession of mysteriously serene and graceful arias by each of the three youths in turn - beautifully and stylishly sung by sopranos Caroline Weynants, Mariana Flores and Magdalena Padilla Olivares - as they remain untouched in the flames, and all of this further enhanced by the subtly imaginative scoring of the Cappella Mediterranea's accompaniments (34, 36, 38). The work ends with a solemn chorus, stating the moral of the tale in no uncertain terms: "Mortals, here is the truth: where innocence fights in the guise of a child, it prostrates idols and casts down the proud" (Charles Johnston's translation). Would that it were true of our own times!

This, then, is another remarkable baroque sacred oratorio by Falvetti, full of musical surprises and yet flowing beautifully between delicate solo and concerted vocal passages, telling instrumental statements, portentous or triumphal choruses. It brings further confirmation of the adventurous boldness and originality of this genuinely fascinating maestro di cappella of Messina. This recording by Señor García Alarcón and his ensemble is superbly imaginative, with excellent singers in all the roles and very fine instrumental support throughout; only the frequent use of percussion, although mostly quite subtle and by no means overpowering, may not be to everyone's taste, but personally I'm getting quite used to it now with this spirited ensemble.

At the time of writing, this performance at the 2012 Festival d'Ambronay can also be viewed on YouTube - a feast for the eyes, although less so for the ears unless your computer's sound system is up to the task. The recording in CD format is splendidly vivid. The two booklet essays, one of which is from the director himself, are also extremely helpful, for example in outlining the allegorical significance of the story as commentary on the Spanish hegemony over southern Italy at the time, as well as in explaining the subtleties of the complex musical characterisation of figures such as Nabucco - a tortured despot, by no means as straightforwardly villainous in this depiction as we might have expected. All texts and translations are given.

So Falvetti's versatile mastery of form, mood and texture results in another highly colourful and absorbing work. "Nabucco" is characterised by the combination of high drama and intimacy that will be familiar to those who already know the marvellous "Il diluvio universale", but this time perhaps with just a little more of the gentleness and less of the fury. If you already like "Il diluvio", you probably won't need any more convincing. Apparently the composer produced numerous other works - polyphonic masses, concertante psalms and motets - but, barring any further discoveries, these two oratorios are the only things known to have survived to this day. So, for those of us who fancy the idea of collecting the complete works of Falvetti on disc, at least we know it's not going to break the bank - because, with these two recordings from the Cappella Mediterranea, that seems to be our lot.
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on 29 March 2014
An exiting author , a precise personality with an incredible originality. The papers of the score are kept in Venice at the Cini Foundation. I'd really like to see them , in order to understand how much the orchestration is different from the original score. A brilliant record, a great discovery.
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on 16 February 2014
An amazing discovery, have shared it with many friends!Beautiful expressive music superbly performed, shows that there is still much baroque and earlier music we need hear.
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on 9 January 2015
A great disc from the direction of Alarcon.He seems to have a way of turning good works into great performances.Well worth buying.
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on 20 May 2016
Good addition to my collection!
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on 30 April 2015
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