The eighth concert of the Valletta International Baroque Festival provided the packed audience with a most delightful evening. The Valletta International Baroque Ensemble performed works by Handel, Steffani and Abos in the imposing St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral. Formed during the first season, the Valletta International Baroque Ensemble consists of talented Maltese musicians augmented by international performers who provide instruments and expertise in Baroque music performance which is unavailable in Malta.

Last year saw the tercentenary of the birth of the Maltese composer Girolamo Abos. This was one of three concerts in the festival which performed his music. The concert opened with a Sonata a tré, Op.1 no. 6, by the Maltese composer Mikiel’Ang Vella. A priest, Vella founded the first school of music in Malta. Among his prominent pupils was Nicolò Isuoard. The set of sonata was published in Paris in 1768. Written in the gallant style, they were performed with three violins and basso continuo providing an opportunity to hear this little known composer.

The second work was an outstanding performance of Occhi perche piange? by Agostino Steffani. The work is written as a love duet for two voices, usually a soprano and a castrato or countertenor, and basso continuo. This evening the duet was performed to perfection by the soprano Gillian Zammit and the mezzo-soprano Claire Ghigo, two of Malta’s outstanding soloists. The work was performed with a continuo of harp, theorbo and harpsichord. The singing was an absolute joy to listen to, the voices matching each other well.

Handel’s cantata Armida abbandonata was performed by the soprano Mhairi Lawson. This was beautifully performed with great style and pathos, especially in the aria “O voi, dell’incostante” where Armida calls upon the monsters of the deep to avenge Rinaldo who has abandoned her. Lawson then presented us with another flawless interpretation of Handel’s “Credete al mio dolore” from his opera Alcina.

The Trio Sonata in B flat major HMW388 performed with strings and continuo followed. This one of six sonatas reputed to have been written by Handel when he was ten years old and they show an amazing maturity for one so young. The highlight of the evening was a stunning performance of the Stabat Mater by Abos. Girolamo Abos born in 1715 of a Maltese mother and possibly French father, studied in Naples under Leonardo Leo and Francesco Durante. Abos started to write opera buffa, later becoming director of the Italian Theatre in London between 1756 and 1758, then returning to teach in Naples. His best known pupil was Paisiello. The Stabat Mater is one of Abos’s longest sacred works, scored for three voices, strings and basso continuo. The three voices share equal prominence in the various sections with a typical Neapolitan instrument opening of the second section. Abos uses two violins and cello prominently providing short interludes and support to the singers. The final Amen is a fugue alternating between the three voices which demonstrates Abos’s understanding and use of counterpoint. This was a most outstanding performance by the three singers and the group of musicians, the balance of the voices and the singing was absolute perfection.