Weber's Overture to Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber opened this performance by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by their composer in residence, Joseph Vella, under the title of “The Composer Conducts”. The opera's plot is the striking of a deal between a “free shooter” and the devil to obtain a set of silver bullets to aid him win the hand of his beloved. The demonic powers were darkly portrayed by a theme that utilized the lowest registers of the strings, clarinet and bassoon creating an eerie atmosphere. 

Gjorgji Cincievski (Double bass) © Darrin Zammit Lupi
Gjorgji Cincievski (Double bass)
© Darrin Zammit Lupi

Three of the works performed had a common theme: magic and the supernatural as represented by the 19th century gothic novel. Following Weber came the Ballet Music from Faust, by Charles Gounod. With a similar theme to the previous work, Méphistophélès takes Faust to watch the revelries of legendary and heroic characters on Walpurgisnacht. The music built in intensity, reaching a climax in an Allegro vivo. 

However, the real magic of the evening was a virtuoso performance of the Double Bass Concerto no. 2 by Giovanni Bottesini, performed by the Macedonian double bass player, Gjorgji Cincievski. Despite the numerous works for double bass, it is still unusual to hear it played as a solo instrument. Bottesini's technical skills earned him the title of “the Paganini of the Double Bass”. Cincievski’s performance of the Double Bass concerto no. 2 in B minor emulated this technical ability, together with a sense of musicality and eloquence. Cincievski displayed his absolute mastery of the instrument, with some virtuosic playing in the first and third movements. The beautiful Andante second movement was played with feeling and emotion. Cincievski, principal bass player of the MPO, is a musician who exhibits that rare quality which combines technical ability with the musicality of an artistic performer. He received an enthusiastic reception. We were also privileged to hear some more of his virtuosic playing in a encore of "Motivy" by Emil Tabakov.

Continuing the magical and supernatural theme the orchestra performed Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The concert concluded with a first performance of Joseph Vella Symphonic Variations on a Theme by Chopin Op. 131 (in memory of Maria). The work was composed as tribute to the Maltese and international pianist, the late Maria Ghirlando. The variations are based on Ms Ghirlando’s favourite work, Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat, Op.9 no. 2. The work plays around with short motifs extracted from Chopin’s work. The variations continue without pause; in fact, the theme comes at the climax at the very end of the piece just before the coda.

The work is scored for piano and orchestra, the piano performing some of the variations forming the link to Chopin’s work. Short motifs from the original can be heard and then the music moves into the variation. The Maltese and International pianist Natascha Chircop performed the piano part. 

A full statement of the main theme is heard with the orchestra followed by the piano prior to the coda, which finishes with a quiet serene ending, which the composer explained at the commencement of the work, as a statement of “rest in peace”.