I have watched the Valletta International Baroque Ensemble (VIBE) develop over the years since their formation at the first Valletta International Baroque Festival in 2012. They have gone from strength to strength, and their latest concert was a testament to their growth. In a concert reflecting the development of the 18th-century concerto their maturity was evident with the programme selected. It was a pleasure to see more and more local artists performing, demonstrating the interest, especially among the younger generation of musicians, in the development of this genre of music which is relatively new to the Maltese music scene.

© Valletta International Baroque Festival
© Valletta International Baroque Festival

Under the direction of the vibrant and enthusiastic English violinist Catherine Martin, the ensemble, consisting of Maltese musicians with support from players from the UK, Germany and the United States, showed diversity in their programme, performing works of Handel, Boyce, Arne, Vivaldi and Telemann. Bracketing the recital with Concerto Grossi by Corelli and Handel, the ensemble performed works showing the many forms of concerti developed in the 18th century.

The chemistry between the members of the ensemble was evident from the first notes of the Corelli Concerto Grosso in D major. Martin had total control of the performers who were responsive to her every gesture. The thing that impressed me most was the enjoyment that the performers obviously had in performing. This enjoyment dissipated among the packed audience in the 19th-century Pro-Cathedral of St Paul in Valletta. This church has a perfect acoustic for this music and each note could be heard without echo or reverberation.

Each year the ensemble introduces instruments which are rarely or never heard on the island. This year it was the turn of the oboe d’amore. In a wonderful performance of the J.S. Bach’s Oboe d’Amore Concerto in A major given by the German oboist, Katharina Spreckelsen, the beautiful tone of this instrument was demonstrated to its full extent. Spreckelsen’s playing was perfection and the audience was enthralled by the virtuosity and wonderful tone that she produced from the instrument.

© Valletta International Baroque Festival
© Valletta International Baroque Festival

The Concerto for Four Violins by Telemann was beautifully played. The four violins interacted with each other enabling a wonderful effect with the themes moving seamlessly between the instruments.

An unusual concerto by the little known Dutch composer Unico Wilhelm Van Wassenaer demonstrated the serious work of this part-time composer. The ensemble also demonstrated its virtuosity in a lively performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B minor. 

The ensemble performed in combinations of small groups as well as works utilizing the full group of 21 performers in the larger works, thus varying the textures and sonority of the ensemble. The use of, at times, four cellos and two oboes produced a marvellous effect.

The concert was a joy to listen to and to observe. Praise must be given to Catherine Martin who has honed the group to its present form producing an ensemble to rival many of the established ensembles appearing at the festival.