The penultimate concert in the Valletta International Baroque Festival series was a recital of Bach’s keyboard music. The venue for this concert was the Sala Isouard, part of the 17th-century Bonici Palace which now forms part of the foyer to the Manoel Theatre.

© Mario Mintoff/VIBF
© Mario Mintoff/VIBF

The well-structured programme, given by the young Maltese pianist Joanne Camilleri, traced Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical development from his student days in Arnstadt, when he was 19, all the way to Leipzig, at the age of 50.

Today we have been accustomed to hearing the music in its original form for harpsichord. Since the 70s, there has been a move to historically informed performance on original instruments. The last two generations have forgotten the earlier performances of Rosalind Tureck. Joanne Camilleri is one of the younger generation of musicians who have had the opportunity to study the works and approach them from a historically informed perspective, allowing her to re-evaluate the elements of Baroque style.

The Capriccio sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dilettissimo, BWV 992, is one of the few authenticated works from Bach’s early years. Joanne Camilleri approached this work with charm and captured beautifully its youthful energy. Wonderfully clear, the performance lacked nothing in tonal warmth. A fine balance was struck between the necessary “improvisational” quality and an equally necessary sense of the music.

The second work was the English Suite no. 2, BWV 807, which was perfectly executed, with clear articulation and great dexterity. The slower movements showed a complete understanding of the nature of the music. Here the momentum of the piece moves forward with a seemingly faster pace, but remained beautifully controlled.

Following this, Camilleri played the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903. Camilleri performed this extravagant work with virtuosity, and clearly brought out the bold harmonic structure of alternating sections of differently textured music. It takes dextrous fingers to articulate the fugue clearly. Camilleri played this lengthy work in a balanced, carefully controlled performance.

The final item on the programme was Concerto nach Italienischem Gusto, BWV 971,  better known as the “Italian Concerto” – one of Bach’s most familiar works for solo keyboard. Part of what makes the piece so compelling is Bach’s ingenuity in transferring details of Vivaldian string writing to the keyboard. This work was performed with youthfulness and exuberance. The outer movements were brilliantly executed.

Joanne Camilleri combines the secure touch of a seasoned performer thoroughly immersed in Bach’s style with an effervescent freshness of spirit able to sustain a level of artistry, concentration, stamina and attention to detail.