It was a performance that covered a wide gamut of styles, composers and periods. Making use of the privileged situation at St George’s Basilica, in that one can perform on the beautiful 17th century organ in the organ loft, as well as the new full-bodied one from behind the main altar, duo Joseph Lia and Irina Rozanova devised a programme that saw them performing from both ends of the church.
The Duo started their concert from the organ loft. Starting with a rather extended Sonata by Maltese composer Luigi Grech Grandolini, Irina Rozanova, who hails from St Petersburg, immediately made her mark as an organist of very fine mettle indeed. Making use of the multiple nuances that the precious instrument affords, she created a microcosmic environment of exquisite colour, one that literally played into her hands, pun intended!
Joseph Lia has come a long way since he started pursuing vocal training in St Petersburg. His voice has acquired an undiluted richness and clarity, especially in the upper register, and this, coupled with sound musical training, helped him tackle the very difficult Handel aria Vouchsafe, O Lord, from the magnificent Dettingen Te Deum and Bach’s formidable Großer Herr O Starker König from the Christmas Oratorio with confidence. The inevitable Baroque embellishments and quick runs were well-articulated and phrases well-defined. A contrast was intelligently created by two other arias, namely, Stradella’s well-known Pietà, Signore and Durante’s very beautiful Vergin tutto amor. Joseph managed adroitly in changing style in a seamless manner so that the singing came across as most natural.
Taking her place behind the main altar, Irina sprang to more life with her outstanding rendition of Bach’s monumental Chaconne, adapted for organ by none other than Busoni. Here, the organist came across as authoritative and masterful and if any doubt lingered in the audience’s mind due to her extremely young age, this was immediately dispelled with another powerful and magnificent performance of Messiaen’s forbidding and awesome Apparition de l’eglise etérnelle, a tour-de-force that is not for the faint-hearted. She rounded off the evening with another dazzling performance of Uspensky’s Sonata-Fantasia. Showing her virtuosity she also performed Joseph Vella’s most beautiful Offerta musicale op. 87, a thoroughly delectable piece that is contemplative in tone and mood.
In between the organ interludes which, on their own, could well have formed a complete recital, Joseph Lia sang other pieces that attested to his well-rounded vocal mastery and understanding of various styles. This was evident in the dramatic It is enough, from Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, which is a very demanding work, both technically and musically. Here, one could feel a slight insecurity in pitch, especially when it comes to a full ‘forte’ dynamic. However, this was soon recovered in the following three more mellow pieces, namely, Joseph Fenech’s Ave Maria, Franck’s much-loved Panis angelicus and Caccini’s utterly beautiful Ave Maria. Joseph Vella’s Psalm 89 op. 43a was delivered with authority and panache.
This was a long concert but one that held its own ground through the sheer personalities of the performers and their command and mastery of their respective instruments.
It also made the audience appreciate the blessing and privilege that St George’s Basilica is endowed with, amongst others having such wonderful instruments to perform on which enables the VIAF organizers to hold world-class concerts by world-class artistes over the years.