The final weekend of the Valletta International Baroque Festival commenced with a concert of 18th-century music for ensemble and voice. This recital contained no fewer than three items that had not been heard for nearly 300 years.

© Mario Mintoff/VIBF
© Mario Mintoff/VIBF

The concert was given by the Camerata Galatea, a group comprising core and affiliated musicians from the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra committed to historically informed performance of Baroque and Classical music.  For this recital, they were joined by the renowned soprano Gillian Zammit.

The venue for this concert, as for the Monteverdi Vespers, was St Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral.

The composers and works selected for this concert, under the title of “Lords and Masters”, shared unusual links and cross-connections, both between themselves and with the modern world.

The first piece performed was a sonata by Tomasso Prota, which was being performed for the first time since the time of its composition. Prota served as Maestro di Capella in Malta during the 1740s. The work, a sonata for trebles and continuo in B flat major, Op. 1, exists in a published form in Paris, dated 1751.

The sonata, consisting of five movements – Largo, Allemande, Andante, Aria-Grazioso and Allegro – was performed by John McDonough (oboe) and Maria Conrad (violin). The continuo comprised Philip Walsh (harpsichord) and Tim Smedley (cello).

Following the Prota were two of Handel’s Neun deutsche Arien. The beautiful Süße Stille, sanfte Quelle HWV205 (“Sweet quiet, gentle source of peaceful serenity!”), marked Larghetto, compares the way a fine spring moonlit night follows day with how eternal peace awaits us after the futile labour of life. Gillian Zammit sang this work beautifully, conveying a scene of lyrical tranquillity. The flute obbligato was played by Rebecca Hall.

This was followed by Flammende Rose, Zierde der Erden, a song in triple-meter whose title translates as “Flaming Roses, Adornment of the Earth”, is marked by sequences in the obbligato line contrasting with the voice throughout the main section. The middle section is a minor-key excursion without the obbligato flute. The voice and flute blended well in these two beautifully sung songs.

A sonata for two violins, Op. 2, by Michael Festing followed the Handel. Festing served as leader of Handel’s opera orchestra. The link Festing has with the modern world is that he is a direct ancestor of the current Grand Master of the Order of St John.

The work consisted of four movements; Andante, Allegro, Largo e Piano and Allegro – Allegro ma non troppo.

This work was the second piece performed as a “living memory” première. The works were discovered and edited by the eminent Australian musicologist Fra Richard Divall, for the exclusive use of the Camerata Galatea at the Festival.

Following the Festing, Gilliam Zammit performed Telemann’s Hemmet den Eifer, verbannet die Rache. The cantatas are designated for voice and obbligato instruments – for this performance a flute and basso continuo – and they take the form of two da capo arias with an intervening recitative. The work was composed for the Fourth Sunday after the Feast of Epiphany, which coincidently was the following day.

The first aria, Spiritoso, saw Gillian Zammit gave us a performance which was a masterly blend of tunefulness and vocal virtuosity, beautifully accompanied by Rebecca Hall. This led to the recitative, pondering on the Ten Commandments, and the final aria: Ja, ja, ich will den Nächsten lieben (“Yes, yes, I will love our neighbour”) was sung, as indicated in the score, dolce.

A second sonata by Prota followed: Sonata in C major for two trebles and continuo. The instruments employed for this were flute (Rebecca Hall) and violin (Nemanja Ljubinkovic).

The final work, the beautiful Quartet in G major for flute, oboe, violin and continuo by Telemann, was performed in an elegant stylish manner and brought this wonderful recital to a fitting conclusion.