VIAF 2013

A triumphant Cappella Sistina Trio and Laudate Pueri Choir!

This evening the Victoria International Arts Festival reached one of its highest peaks in a concert given by an extraordinary trio from the Cappella Sistina Choir, namely, the Archicantor Trio, comprised of Gianluca Alonzi, Roberto Colavalle and Cesare Ruta Stoch, who interpreted Girolamo Abos’s Stabat Mater in its original setting. Girolamo Abos is one of the more outstanding composers of his time and his wonderful Stabat Mater ranks as one of his masterpieces, comparing very favourably with the Pergolesi.

Composed for 2 sopranos and an alto, this evening saw what is, arguably, the first performance given by 3 male singers. In Alonzi, Colavalle and Ruta Stoch, this monumental work was given all the credit it deserves. The ease with which Gianluca Alonzi tackled the very demanding top Soprano line was nothing short of humbling, while Roberto Colavalle’s very beautiful voice is more than capable of sending shivers down one’s spine. Cesare Ruta Stoch possesses a warm and robust voice and, in the range of the Alto, one feels he needed all the masterful technique he certainly possesses to keep an even tone throughout and even tackle a difficult cadenza with panache and style. Together, the Trio delivered a performance that will do down as one of the most brilliant, high-powered and musical the islands have been privileged to welcome.

The Victoria Festival Ensemble ably led by Sarah Spiteri was under the direction of Joseph Vella, who also edited the work and recorded it a few years ago with sopranos Miriam Cauchi, Claire Debono and Claire Massa.

The first part of the concert saw the participation of the resident choir at St George’s Basilica, the Laudate Pueri. With an enviable reputation for being one of the leading choirs that has spread a new culture in liturgical singing in that for the best part of the 38 years of its existence it has always sought to capture the spirit and respect the sacred liturgical nature of the texts sung. It also adheres to the Roman style of interpretation, one that has earned it the praise not only of critics and the general public but also of three maestri di cappella of the Sistine Chapel Choir, namely, Domenico Bartolucci, Giuseppe Liberto and Massimo Palombella.

Under the direction of George Joseph Frendo the choir interpreted two of Palestrina’s most beautiful and difficult works – the motet Nigra sum and the magnificent Credo from his Missa Papae Marcelli. Sung with supreme elegance, perfect pitch and deep spiritual sentiment, this interpretation took liturgical singing in our islands to a whole new dimension.  In between these two works, the choir also interpreted one of Bartolucci’s most hauntingly beautiful motets, his Crux fidelis, scored for solo soprano (Maria Frendo) and 4-part male chorus. This motet is generally reserved for the liturgical function on Good Friday and is rarely performed by the choir unless for special occasions, and today was one of them. The very beautiful melodic line was elegantly sung by the soprano, who was more than ably supported by a chorus characterized by warm, mellow and strong voices, with a tenor line reaching high B flats, sung pianissimo with disarming ease.

At the end of the concert, the Cappella Sistina Trio joined the Laudate Pueri Choir in another Palestrina motet, this time Exaltabo te, for 5-part mixed chorus. This very short but devilishly difficult work, well-woven in the most contrapuntal of networks, brought a thundering and resounding applause from a very appreciative audience which packed the Basilica.

This is a night to remember!