All good things come to an end and so did the silver jubilee edition of the VIAF. Back in its usual format after three years, the Festival had the usual month-long run of events featuring local and foreign performers.
Rev. Fr. George J. Frendo, Artistic Director welcomed the distinguished guests and other members of the audience. He expressed his delight at the VIAF’s having returned in full force and thanked sponsors for their importantly vital support. He was followed by His Lordship the Bishop of Gozo, Mgr. Anthony Theuma, who followed with words of appreciation of efforts to create beauty through music.
Beauty there certainly was, in great measure too. One could never go wrong where Beethoven’s genius is concerned. It hits one with the message he sent with his first foray in the world of the symphony, his N.1, in C Major, Op.21. Formally it is a reminder of Haydn and Mozart, opening with an Adagio molto which bursts into a glorious Allegro con brio. Then a contrasting lovely Andante cantabile con moto.While still hearkening to his predecessors, his Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace must have sounded alarming to Beethoven’s contemporaries. A minuet only in name, this one spelt the death-knell of the minuet in symphonies “which mattered”. As it had been since its beginning the freshness of the music, the vitality and elegance of the movements continued to prevail in the final Adagio – Allegro molto vivace.
I like to observe not only the the way direction holds together and silently passes on the message to the whole team, but also watch the faces of the various musicians which show they are truly enjoying themselves in the process. Zest, energy, vigour and sensitivity are put in whenever they are called for, inevitably leading to the desired result.
The little I had heard of Andrea Gajic during another VIAF event only three days earlier convinced me that she had the stuff required for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.61. It IS one of the greatest of violin concertos ever written. It makes one “greedily” regret he wrote just this one. Yet, did he realise that he could not reach higher than he did with this one? It is useless to speculate when what he did here is nothing but other-worldly.
It began with the soft but ominous five notes on the timpani, which are part of the drama developing in the opening Allegro ma non troppo. Andrea Gajic’s much-awaited entry revealed her superb musicianship and technique right from the start. Her tone was of the purest imaginable, with crystalline clarity and in wonderful interaction with conductor and orchestra. It was a great recipe for success.
It continued in the central Larghetto, with a nigh ethereal beauty resulting from the violin’s exquisite sound and the orchestra’s soft backing. Much as I like the ornate beauty of the basilica of St. George, I closed my eyes during most of this Larghetto for fear of being distracted by it and lose track of the music.
The same splendid team-work continued to prevail in the concluding Rondo: allegro. After the second theme comes a superb ten-note figure is heard twice, utter bliss twice expressed, never to return. Things proceded until a great cadenza, like the one close to the end of the first movement, was a display of virtuosity and tireless energy from the petite violinist leading to the end of the concerto.. What a great conclusion this was! It ended with a well-merited standin ovation.
A BIG word of thanks to ALL who worked so hard to put on this festival, as well as to all sponsors whose support helps maintain the VIAF as one of the best festivals in the Maltese Islands. Looking forward to the 26th VIAF in 2023!
Albert George Storace