The Valletta International Baroque Festival  presented a concert featuring the mandolin on Sunday 19 January. This was given by the quartet Classica Pizzicata, made up of four of the best mandolin players currently in Italy.

The concert was held in the beautifully decorated Throne Room of the Grandmasters Palace in Valletta. The walls are decorated by a cycle of paintings by the Roman-trained artist Matteo Perez d’Alecco (1547–1616).

The quartet was directed by Gianluigi Sperindeo, playing first mandolin. The three other members were Enrico Capano, Marcello Gentile and Carmine Terracciano; their average age was 20. Since 2008 they have worked together to restore the mandolin to its rightful role in the history of Italian music.

The instruments used for this performance were first and second mandolins, mandola and guitar. The music was drawn from settings of the sinfonia in operas of the first half of the 18th century. These included pieces by Domenico Sarri, Nicolò Porpora, Johann Adolf Hasse, Leoardo Vinci and Leonardo Leo. A sonata a tre by Jomelli replaced the next two works on the programme. The final work on the programme was the Sinfonia from Lo Frate ‘nnamurato by Pergolesi.

The performers offered a programme of works which were virtually unknown the audience, and presented them in interesting settings.

However, although the group played excellently, there was something that the concert lacked – tonal range among the instruments. The mandolin has a dynamic range from loud to soft but lacks any tonal variation. The guitar offered a difference in tone and timbre in the bass line and chordal accompaniment, but the mandolins proved to be repetitive.

The pieces would have worked better with the mandolins supported by a continuo group, possibly utilizing bowed instruments, with the mandolin playing the melody line only.

Notwithstanding this, there were some virtuosic moments in the playing by the performers and it was interesting to have the opportunity to hear these relatively unknown works.

The piece that really seemed to work well was the final work by Pergolesi, Lo Frate ‘nnamuarto. The Allegro spiritoso sounded well with the instrumental combination, with some virtuosic runs on the mandolins, and the Andante was played sympathetically, although it was impossible to sustain the bass line with the combinations of instruments. The final Allegro assai was played at a lively pace and provided an enjoyable conclusion to this unusual recital.