The Malta Independent 2 December 2023, Saturday
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Sacred music with a difference

Marie Benoît Sunday, 19 November 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 15 days ago

I had been looking forward to the concert of Mgr Marco Frisina, at our glorious St John's in Valletta, which was announced well before it was taking place, and at last the day arrived. It was beautifully organised by the Società Filarmonica Nazionale La Valette which next year is celebrating 150 years since it was set up, in 1874.

I have not yet had the opportunity to have a look at their premises in Republic Street but I am told they are looking splendid. I have been to several of their musical events and have certainly never been disappointed.


Upon arriving at St John's which was full house that evening, I found, on my seat, a souvenir programme of some 130 pages.  It contains plenty of information about the Società and also about those participating in the concert that evening. The programme was displayed in the middle pages. It is a pity that in such a handsome souvenir booklet there were no notes at all about the music. It was just the title and the composer. A few notes on each piece, and who was participating in that particular piece, would have made it more interesting and helpful. The good Mgr did say  a few words about each piece but they were almost inaudible to those of us further back.

As was expected nine of the compositions were by Mgr Fresina. I had already had a taste of them on You Tube. However, the concert started off with Dr Paolo Nani's composition: Il Naufragio di San Paolo: Sinfonia in Si Bemolle. I know nothing about the composer except that he existed.  But I remember the Nani music shop, in South Street I think it was, from where my mother used to buy music scores.

Nani's piece was a pleasant start to the evening.  Nine compositions of Mons Fresina followed.

Here are my favourites: Apostolo delle Genti  - "A te Paolo Noi Cantiamo, Ripperendo il tuo camino"... what could be more appropriate for a Maltese audience than a hymn to St Paul, the apostle we have adopted as our own.
Jesus Christ You Are My Life is now a top hit.


I enjoyed Open the Doors, from the soundtrack of the film Giovanni Paolo II, with its calming music and singing. My favourites were La Via Dei Martiri and Shemà Israel, moving music which touches the heart and soul. I looked up Shemà Israel. "It is the central affirmation of Judaism. The prayer expresses belief in the singularity of God, that is, in God's oneness and incomparability. It is traditionally recited twice a day, as part of the morning (Shacharit) and evening (Arvit or Ma'ariv) services.

It serves as the climax of the liturgy on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Jews often recite the prayer as their dying words, including Jewish martyrs who, throughout the ages, made it their final profession of faith before being put to death."

A piece by another local composer was played: The Finale from the Oratorio Pawlu ta'Malta composed in 1985 by Charles Camilleri with Oliver Friggieri's libretto.

It is only right that the Inno La Valette and finally our Innu Malti brought this beautiful evening to an end.


Let me add that apart from his studies for the priesthood, Mgr Fresina graduated in composition at the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia. He is professor in two universities one of them being the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. He does so much more. Where does he find the time and energy?

 In 1991 he started a collaboration with the TV series:Le storie della Bibbia by Lux Vide, as biblical consultant and musical composer for which he involved the Italian composer Ennio Morricone. It is impossible here to list all his compositions but I will mention just one: In 2007 he composed the La Divina Commedia opera musical L'uomo che cerca l'amore voted the best Italian musical of the year.


Our singers did us proud: Soprano Rosabelle Bianchi, the tenor Charles Vincenti, pianist Simone Attard who is the founder and director of The Mirabitur Youth Choir who sang that evening; Maestro Dominic Darmanin, conductor and director of the Società Filarmonika Nazionale La Valletta which gave a great contribution. Thanks also to the President and committee who organise these events.


I asked Dr Klaus Vella Bardon who was present with his wife Susan, for a comment. Here it is:

"It was my privilege to attend this splendid musical event.  It was a mind blowing experience. Superlatives would not do justice to this outstanding soul-uplifting experience.

As the late Josef Ratzinger who became Pope Benedict XVI said: "Conversation with God transcends the boundaries of human speech"; therefore it calls on music, both vocal and instrumental, for help. He speaks with authority as both he and his brother were men of the Church and accomplished musicians.


"The superb orchestra and choir, tenor and soprano gave all the help one could desire. Praise cannot do justice to their outstanding performance.

Frisina's work has all the prerequisites for sacred music that Pope Benedict XVI insists should include "awe, receptivity and a humility that is prepared to serve by participating in the greatness which has already gone before".


"The splendour of the Co-Cathedral with its first rate acoustics lent itself to make one's spirit soar.

Mgr. Frisina took time to introduce each hymn that had a pertinent link to the event. He has a soft spot for the late Pope John Paul II and his Jesus Christ you are my life raised the roof. This hymn was composed for the Jubilee 2000 and sang at the legendary Youth Day of Rome. It has become the anthem of World Youth events.

I am a devotee of Marco Frisina's music and the words 'La vera Gioia' or 'The true Joy' reveal the spirit that animates this exceptional priest and musician.


True joy is born in peace ...

does not consume the heart


It is like fire with its heat and gives life when the heart dies.


True joy builds the world

And it brings light into the darkness


True joy comes from light

Shining alive in a pure heart


The truth sustains its flame

Therefore he does not fear shadows or lies


True joy frees your heart

It makes you sing in freedom


True joy flies above the world

And sin will not be able to stop it


His wings shine with grace

Gift of Christ and his salvation


And it unites everyone as if in a hug

And He loves everyone in charity..."


Thank you Klaus.

In these difficult times we need more than ever to have faith and hope. The music of Mgr Fresina helps to give us both. The world needs to hear his music more. I was brought up on plain chant. I loved it and still do. The church needs to look at it's music, too. I say bring back some plain chant. The Mgr Fresina concert made us think.


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Photos: Karl Farrugia

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