The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Marie Benoit's Diary: ‘Concerto di Natale’ at St Patrick’s Church

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 15 January 2019, 09:11 Last update: about 2 years ago

I miss the Christmases of my childhood and even those of my teenage years and twenties. Everyone was still at home, all seven of us for our parents were both alive and healthy and the world was our oyster with  many joys and sorrows yet to come.

Christmas and Easter were important feasts in the Church calendar and we looked forward to them, but especially Christmas for we were allowed to fly the family nest for a couple of hours and go carol singing with our friends on the proviso that any money collected went to charity. I saw one group of carol singers in B'Kara this year but that is all. Perhaps it is no longer considered 'cool' to go carol singing. But I wouldn't know as I am not into 'cool'. But I do miss those carol singers.

We looked forward to midnight mass sometimes at the Convent where Mother De Barra, who was sacristan, made sure that the chapel looked magnificent. Mother O'Duffy lead the singing - a mixture of traditional English and Latin carols. Mother Christiansen, Danish who also had a lovely voice, competed with her.

Apart from the traditional carols still sung today, I particularly liked Puer natus. There are several versions of this on You Tube but not the one we used to sing and which was so beautiful.

Sometimes midnight Mass was at St Gregory's - a vast, to me at least, cold and somewhat soul less church and where the parish priest at the time, would not allow women to wear colourful head scarfs as he felt that the Eiffel tower or horses on a headscarf were distracting and might lead us to eternal damnation. It had to be black veils. One of my sisters used to take buttons with her and put them in the sacristan's 'sack' to get her own back for not being able to display her latest scarf.

We liked Midnight Mass at St Patrick's, too:  a more intimate church and where we could participate in the singing in English. My young one now tells me that she hated the dresses with smocking I made her wear as many of her schoolfriends were already wearing jeans, so she used to try hiding behind one of the columns. I still have some of those delightful dresses but I can guarantee that neither of my granddaughters will be wearing them. It's leggings and casual wear these days.

So St Patrick's church was very much part of our lives for apart from Midnight Mass that is where we went to Sunday Mass and Holy Communion, Confession too, and participated in the Corpus Christi and Our Lady of Christians processions.

Once again The Italian Embassy and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura held their Christmas concert at this very church which was beautifully decorated with poinsettias and green garlands, putting us all in a Christmas mood.

As last year the musicians were the Orchestra Da Camera Italiana a Malta.This ensemble was created for the first Concerto di Natale back in 2015. The idea behind OCIM is to reinforce the cultural ties between Italy and Malta through the universal language of music. Four of the eight musicians are Italian and all form part of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.

They are young, at ease with their instruments and have a sense of fun.

They played Vivaldi, Handel, Respighi, Grieg and at the end delighted us with a Potpurrie di Natale.

Antonio Vivaldi was responsible for what many people reckon is the most recorded piece of classical music of all time:The Four Seasons. Every year new versions are released.  It's all the more remarkable that this work has achieved the success it has when you consider that Vivaldi's music was hardly played at all from his death in 1741 until the middle of the 20th century. This is down to a rather strange decision by a nobleman, Count Giacomo Durazzo. He pulled together all Vivaldi's original works and simply locked them up. In his last will and testament, Durazzo ordered his family to make sure that none of this music by Vivaldi should ever be performed or published. After many years these ludicrous instructions were overturned and Vivaldi's music was once more heard. The public lapped up his catchy melodies, and a star was reborn, some 200 years after his death.

Vivaldi certainly rattled out the concertos, with more than 500 of them to his name. Unkind critics suggest that he actually wrote the same tune in a slightly different way 500 times. Who knows?

Antonio was a bit of a character. He chose to follow in his father's footsteps and learned to play the violin. He played the instrument while undertaking his religious training, becoming known as The Red Priest because of his bright red hair.

He was excused from having to say mass because he claimed to suffer from asthma. This illness certainly did not stop him from conducting or from travelling all over Europe. It also didn't prevent him from enjoying a close relationship with at least one of his travelling companions, a young soprano called Anna Girò and quite possibly with her sister Paolina as well. He was censured for unpriestly conduct in 1737, despite denying that his relationship with the two women was in any way improper. Any illicit affairs certainly never got in the way of Vivaldi's composing. As well as the 500 concertos, he also wrote more than 50 operas, well over 80 sonatas and more than 120 other sacred and secular vocal pieces. That evening the chamber orchestra played one of his concertos Rv 121.

Edvard Grieg's most famous concert work is his beautiful Piano Concerto with its dramatic opening with notes pouring from the piano.

That evening OCIM played the Holberg Suite composed to mark the 200th anniversary of the playwright Ludvig Holberg, who like Grieg was born in Bergen. Perhaps not as well known as his mighty Piano Concerto   or the lyrical Peer Gynt Suites it drives home Grieg's status as one of Europe's most important Romantic composers.

There were two of Handel's compositions: Alla Hornpipe and La Rejouissance. Although German by birth Handel came to be considered as one of Britain's great composers. He was a big man and loved his food. In one restaurant he booked a table for four and ordered four meals. When the waiter arrived with the food he enquired after his other guests. Handel asked him to put the food down, and gobbled all four feasts. I wonder what he died of.

Ottorino Respighi was the second Italian composer on the programme that evening. The young musicians played a selection from his Antiche Danze,  so pleasant to listen to and played with a sense of joy and vitality.

And to think that these musicians had no conductor but managed so beautifully.

As far as I am concerned music, like books, are there to be enjoyed not evaluated. At the end of the evening, as we were full of Christmas spirit especially after the Potpourrie di Natale, we walked down the stairs to the reception below where, appropriately Pannetone, too, was served.

My observation: an evening well spent. Both the ambience and the music were great. It was well worth dragging myself away from my warm living room.

Sister Agnes and her refugees

I'd like to appeal to our readers to send some money to Sister Agnes Azzopardi for the many refugees she is looking after at The Good Shepherd Convent in Balzan.  She is now in her late 80s but persists in her endeavours to make their life as pleasant as possible.  Even a small sum of money will help with her many expenses. Please address your donation to: Sister Agnes Azzopardi, Good Shepherd Conven, Idmejda Street, Balzan.

Thank you so much.

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