The fifth concert of the Valletta Baroque Festival was a performance of the Messa de Morti à 5 concerata by Bonaventura Rubino, performed in the Jesuit Church in Valletta. This work has special significance to Malta. Composed around 1653, the only extant printed copy of the now-lost manuscript score is preserved at the Mdina Cathedral Music Archives. The score was discovered in the mid-1970s by a Sicilian musicologist, Paolo Emilio Carapezza, and together with the collaboration of Monsignor John Azzopardi, curator of the archives, was involved with the project, La Sicilia ritrovata a Malta.

Bonaventura Rubino (1600-1668) was maestro di cappella at Palermo Cathedral from 1645 until his death. His Messa de Morti à 5 concerata was published in Palermo in 1653. The music has a firm base in late Renaissance polyphony and alternates with an effective selection of solos, duos and trios. The work reproduces the liturgical and musical context in the structure of a solemn Requiem mass. In the Mass, the polyphonic sections for voices and basso continuo alternate with the liturgical monodies of the ancient Roman rite, and interspersing organ and instrumental music at appropriate points in the service.

The performance this evening utilised the forces of four ensembles: the Cappella Musicale S. Maria in Camptelli of Rome; Studio di Musica Antica Antonino il Verso of Palermo; Ensemble La Pifarescha, a wind ensemble consisting of sackbuts and cornett; Ensemble La Cantoria, viola da gamba, theorbo and organ. Six soloists were employed from the Kyrie and five celebrants for the chant.

In the extended and attractive Dies irae, the sections alternated between soloists, with theorbo, gamba and organ, and full choir. This worked extremely well and the soloists had an attractive quality and intensity of expression. Interpolated at points within the structure of the mass, as was practice of the time, were brilliantly performed organ interludes of the music of Frescobaldi and Froberger’. 

The readings were intoned within the centre of the church in order to give the audience he physical sensation of the various spots where the ceremony was taking place and the music was being performed. The plainchant was intoned by a section of five voices separated from the main choir.

This splendid performance was directed by Vincenzo Di Betta, maestro di cappella of S.Maria in Capitelli. Although relatively large, the choir was focused and well blended. The soloists the soloists whether singing solo or in duets or trios, were excellent and the instrumentalists, as well as providing excellent doubling for the choir, excelled in the sinfonias at the start of the mass, after the Agnus Dei, and before the Libra me. These were taken from the works of Salomone Rossi and Francesco Cavalli, and positioned at appropriate points within the mass structure.

All instruments and voices could be heard clearly and the interplay of choir work, soloists and the plainchant was executed beautifully. The Latin monody chants were brilliantly performed.

The quality of the singers and instrumentalists combined with the brilliant acoustics of the church contributed to an evening that was a wonderful and uplifting experience.