Yesterday evening, the hallowed spaces of the Victoria Library in Vajringa Street echoed with the wonderful tones of the viola, mandolin and the accordion in a concert that was as unique as it was eclectic.
Pierre Henri Xuereb is no newcomer to our Festival and this time round the ensemble consisted of him performing on the viola, Vincent Beer-Demander on the mandolin and Gregory Daltin on the accordion. The venue is a classic place for chamber music and the sizeable audience enjoyed a very varied programme that ranged from Tango to Shostakovich and Ravel.
Starting with Wilhelm Friedmann Bach’s Adagio and Allegro, Pierre Henri and Gregory Daltin tackled this Baroque piece with confidence. There is an improvisatory feel to W.F. Bach’s works that is not shared by his father, J.S. Bach, and this quality was very cleverly intimated, especially by the viola, without in any way sacrificing the formal qualities of the work.
Vincent Beer-Demander is a superb performer on the mandolin, teasing out the most sweet and delectable sound from an instrument we are (or used to, for it’s becoming more and more rare) only used to hearing in a very informal folk environment. He raises his performance to the classical concert platform and the lovely, haunting melody of Cosma’s soundtrack ‘Le ciel, la terre et l’eau’ for Mandolin Solo was beautifully executed, filling in the equally perfect spaces of the Gozo Library. Vincent then teamed up with the accordionist to perform his own (Vincent’s) Tango, a truly ravishing, pulsating and passionate work that attests not only to the performers’ technical prowess but also to Vincent’s remarkable capabilities as a composer.
The concert continued with Gardel’s Sus ojos se Cerraron for viola and accordion, with the mandolinist providing percussive rhythms while the accordionist had some pretty nifty finger-work on the left hand.
Some more ‘serious’ music (as Pierre Henri put it) then ensued in the form of Shostakovich’s truly beautiful second movement from his Viola Sonata op. 147. This Allegretto is actually playful in places, although one also finds a healthy dose of bitterness, typical of so many of the composer’s later chamber pieces. There is a Russian, slightly exotic flavour to the music here, as well, which was even more enhanced through the use of the accordion instead of the piano. Pierre Henri is a most accomplished performer and this work helped him emerge not only as a brilliant technician but also as an intelligent musician.
The final and most substantial work on the programme was reserved for last, in the shape of Ravel’s charming Ma mère l’Oye (‘My Mother Goose’). Programmatic in nature, following a sequence of 6 pictures depicting well-known fairy-tales, this work attests to Ravel’s extraordinary gifts not only for melody or harmony, but for orchestral/instrumental colour. The dark tones of the viola merged exquisitely with the trembling sweetness of the mandolin and the glittering tones of the accordion – a blend made up of contrasts that enabled the fully vibrant hues of Ravel’s score to shine and sparkle. There was an extended and very informative programme note written by Pierre Henri’s father, the poet Jean-Claude Xuereb, who also touched up his analysis with poetry by Leconte de l’Isle. This programme note was very kindly translated for us by Dr Sarah Grima.
A well-merited warm applause greeted the close of this concert, after which the Trio conceded a lilting lullaby as an encore.