After 17 days and 24 events, the Valletta International Baroque Festival reached its climax with a concert devoted to the music of Rameau and Handel. This was one of several concerts in the festival that featured Rameau’s music, commemorating the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death.

© Mario Mintoff/VIBF
© Mario Mintoff/VIBF

The concert was given by Les Bougies Baroques, an international vocal and period instrument ensemble made up of young professional musicians, directed by Ian Peter Bugeja and led by Katherine Evans. The venue for this recital was the magnificent Throne Room of the Presidential Palace in Valletta.

Unfortunately, the bad weather of the previous days had taken its toll on the performers; both of the male singers had suffered throat infections, rendering one of them unable to attend.

The concert got off to a lively start with the overture to Rameau’s opera Castor et Pollux. There was a change to the second item, which became Handel’s aria Ombra mai fu, sung beautifully in a controlled manner by the mezzo-soprano Clare Ghigo.

Soprano Nicola Said followed this with a really wonderful rendition of Scoglio d'immota fronte  from Handel’s Scipone.

The mood changed from the serious to the comic, sometimes ridiculous, with an animated performance of Aux langueurs d’Apollon from Rameau’s Platée, sung by the imitable soprano Claudia Tabone, at one time taking control of the instrumental ensemble.

After a short interlude of instrumental dances from Handel’s Alcina, Claire Ghigo performed Dopo notte from Handel’s Ariodante, with some impressive coloratura passages.

Despite the effects of a throat infection, the countertenor Cenk Karaferya joined forces with Claudia Tabone and Claire Ghigo to sing Non è amor, nè gelosia from Alcina.

After a brief interval, the ensemble performed the overture to Zoroastre by Rameau. This was followed by two arias from Castor et PolluxCrude furie (Clare Ghigo) and Tristes apprets (Nicola Said), which was finally rounded off with a selection of dances from the same opera. Keeping the theme of Rameau’s works, the aria Cruelle mère des amour (Clare Ghigo) from his first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, was then performed.

Another change to the programme brought a moving and wonderfully controlled Lascia ch’io pianga sung by Nicola Said, which was immensely appreciated by the packed audience.

Claudia Tabone returned in serious guise in Vo’ far Guerra fron Handel’s Rinaldo; the harpsichord part in this aria was played impressively by Ian Peter Bugeja.

The concert concluded with the duet, Caro! Bella! Più amabile beltà from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, sung by Claire Ghigo and Nicola Said. Following which, Claudia Tabone and Cenk Karaferya joined the two singers for the chorus, Ritorni omai nel nostra core.

This concert was a fitting conclusion to the three weeks of the festival. The singers and the musical ensemble performed faultlessly in a lively and enthusiastic manner that befitted the choice of music performed. Claire Ghigo and Nicola Said have to be commended for their faultless performances of the last-minute changes to the programme.