The Malta Independent 24 November 2017, Friday

Marie's Diary: Verdi’s Requiem at the Mediterranean Conference Centre

Marie Benoît Monday, 19 December 2016, 14:07 Last update: about 12 months ago

There has been so much going on since the Season opened in October, especially in the world of music. It is impossible to keep up with it all and I am not even trying.

I very much enjoyed Verdi's Requiem with that inimitable duo  - soprano Miriam Gauci and her husband, pianist/conductor Michael Laus. Do they speak to each other about music all day I wonder.

At the same time there was Mozart's Requiem being performed at the Manoel Theatre ; a clash of Titans indeed.

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I have to say that I am not a requiem girl at all. I only went along because a friend was keen on going. We are surrounded by sadness and death in one way or another and we need to keep our spirits up and requiems don't do the trick although I have to say that Verdi's Requiem was more like opera than a gnashing of teeth affair.

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The fact that when we think of Italy we think of opera is in no small part due to the mischievous-looking Verdi, considered by many to be the greatest of all Italian opera composers. Big tuneful hits fill his twenty-six operas and the majority  of them remain on the bill of fare at opera houses around the world today.

The Messa da Requiem is one of Verdi's major works and is regarded as one of the greatest pieces of choral work ever written.

Requiems come in all shapes and sizes. Verdi's is in the blockbuster category. He wrote it to commemorate the death of another great Italian - his friend Alessandro Manzoni.  Which of us has not at least dipped in his most famous novel I Promessi Sposi, either at school or beyond?

The original idea of Verdi's  Requiem was to commemorate the death of Giacomo Rossini with various composers contributing  to the work.  Verdi contributed the Libera Me but it seems the first performance for various reasons was delayed and when Manzoni died Verdi decided to develop his Libera Me, which had  been his contribution, into a full requiem and dedicate it Manzoni.

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At the performance at the Mediterranean Conference Centre Miriam Gauci (we are so happy to see her performing regularly in Malta) was joined by vocal soloists Claire Massa (Alto), Christopher Busietta (Tenor) and Albert Buttigieg (Bass) with St Monica's choir and the Malta Philharmonic orchestra performing a very important role.

What can one say apart from the fact that I am almost converted to requiems though not at my funeral please! This is such a powerful work conveying a sense of drama. There was ample weight and power but refinement as well in the performance of the choir. I have to say that I felt a certain nostalgia for the good old days when Mass was in Latin and guitars were to be found at dances and not in church ceremonies.

I thought of the Last Judgement as the Dies irae was being sung where both orchestra and choir gave us a thrusting sense of drama, the Sanctus was wonderfully light and joyful. All in all it was a polished performance and we loved it.

 

Schubert's 'Trout'at San Anton Palace'

Franz Schubert died at the age of just thirty-one but his musical compositions ensure his immortality.

He stood only five foot one in his stockinged feet but this in no way deterred him. His output was extraordinary in the short time he was on this earth, composing more than six-hundred different songs or Lieder, some nine symphonies one of them unfinished which I love and still play as a duet with a friend when we can find the time. He also composed eleven operas, Masses and around four hundred other pieces. Let me not forget his heart rending Ave Maria - a perennial favourite and recorded by famous tenors like Pavarotti to tin-pan-alley singers like Perry Como.

Schubert  also liked to enjoy himself and was famous for his musical parties.

He was greatly influenced by the life and music of Beethoven. At the great German composer's funeral, Schubert was one of the torch-bearers.

The son of a Viennese schoolmaster, the young Franz learned the musical basics from his father. The composer Salieri (do you remember him in the film Amadeus?) talent-spotted Schubert when he was just seven; he was packed off to boarding school soon after. There he sang in the choir, played violin in the orchestra and learned musical theory from Salieri himself.

 

That evening at San Anton Palace, the President was away and Mrs Dolores Cristina took over. You have to like this down-to-earth,  no nonsense lady who does what she has to do without any fuss, and does it well, with no pretentions.

That evening the five Polish musicians were brought over by the Polish Cultural Institute in Rome which falls under the aegis of the Cultural Attaché of the  Polish Embassy in Rome which is also accredited to Malta. All this happened on the initiative of the Polish Ambassador to Malta, Jolanta Janek.

Two of the musicians - the double bassist and the pianist came from The Alexander Tansman Quartet (named after an outstanding Polish composer) which is one of the chamber ensembles of Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic - European Art Centre in Bialystok. According to the programme this is the largest art institution in north-eastern Poland and the most modern cultural centre in that region of Europe.

Three other performers joined them that evening on the violin, viola and cello. I am not giving their names as they are difficult and will not mean anything to you. They are all distinguished musicians in their own right as could be gathered from the programme - and indeed from their brilliant performance.

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All music lovers are in love with the Trout as Piano Quintet in A is affectionately called, with its famous theme and variations, but especially with the 4th movement. The five musicians gave a delectably fresh and youthful reading, full of the joys of spring.

The Scherzo brought a light, quick and bouncing performance and there was extra lightness too, in the other middle movements. Delightful music.  Superbly played.

The pianist's playing was clean, clear playing and I felt it dominated the performance. One was swept along by the momentum of the performance of these gifted musicians who gave us variations of the Trout as encore.

A lovely evening of music making at its best.

 


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