My sweet course of the sumptuous feast, under the title of the Valletta International Baroque Festival, arrived on 18 January. The fare was a selection of various European deserts, performed by the New Century Baroque at the Jesuit Church in Valletta.

The New Century Baroque © Mario Mintoff
The New Century Baroque
© Mario Mintoff

Many musicians and composers travelled and studied in different European centres, meeting each other and familiarizing themselves with each other’s works. The New Century Baroque was formed out of a latter-day Grand Tour. Having been formed out of the European Baroque Orchestra, the ensemble has worked together – and features musicians from – all over Europe. The concert performed this evening contained works by composers who had followed a similar pattern in the Baroque era.

The concert got off to a rousing start with a drum roll on the timpani heralding the entrée of Johann Joseph Fux’s Suite in C Major. This is a lively suite with prominent brass in the entrée followed by a lively Rondeau. Three movements of this suite were played, Entrée, Rondeau and Menuette–Trio.

The second work on the programme was a Sonata a tre by the Maltese composer Mikielanġ (Michelangelo) Vella (1715–92).

Being concerned with a religious order, the music at the time of the knights was mainly liturgical. With the opening of the Teatru Manoel there was a regular offering of opera for the carnival season. As for secular instrumental works, scarcely any have been discovered. An exception is a number of sonatas of Michaelangelo Vella.

The musical reputation of Vella rests almost solely on the publication of a superlative set of Sei Sonate a Tre Violini col Basso in Paris in 1768. The work comprises a set of parts without score. These six works are in the galant style. The four movements are in a mixture of German Enlightenment style and French elements reminiscent of the works of Rameau, as well as the Italianate influences of Vella’s teachers. They were modern for their time, and exquisitely composed. They fitted well into the theme of the concert as Vella had incorporated the styles of his teachers and influences of the styles in vogue during his travels. The score was reconstructed from the parts discovered in Paris and edited by the eminent Australian scholar Richard Divall. The festival and the group were introduced to the works by the Maltese violinist Nadia Debono who performed the first violin part in the sonata.

The Vella was followed by Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 2. The highlight of this work was the beautiful Andante in which the flute, oboe and solo violin play over an accompanying bass line.

After a performance of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6 no. 4 the ensemble played the suite from Don Quixote by Telemann. The brief movements portray Don Quixote’s various adventures.

“The Awakening of Don Quixote” is written in a pastoral style, and subtle musical cues suggest the story’s Spanish setting. In “His Attack on the Windmills”, the aggressive but playful music depicts the hero’s famous charge at what he believes are giants. The next two movements feature two-note motifs. In the first, “Sighs of Love for Princess Aline,” the two notes descend as though sighing. In “Sancho Panza Swindled,” the two-note motif is turned upside down and played for comic effect. Then comes music dedicated to Don Quixote’s horse and Sancho Panza’s mule. A moderately paced minuet depicts Rosinante, Don Quixote’s loyal but elderly horse, before “The Gallop of Sancho Panza’s Mule”, which is actually more of a laboured trot, is introduced as a trio section to Rosinante’s minuet. The title of the final movement, “Don Quixote at Rest”, suggests a slow ending to the suite. On the contrary, it is a lively dash that speeds along like the adventurous dreams and delusions of Don Quixote.

The New Century Baroque’s performance portrayed both the playfulness of the music and conjured up the images suggested by the titles.

The concert programme concluded with Georg Muffat’s sonata Arnomico Tributo no. 5, and the encore was the final movement of the Fux suite, a Marche – utilizing the timpani and the trumpet, this provided a stirring finale to a most enjoyable concert.

It was a marvellous performance and the audience responded to it in an enthusiastic way. A fine sweet course to end my personal taste of this wonderful musical banquet.