VIAF 2016

And a stunning start it was …

Yesterday’s opening concert was a truly wonderful affair, with a packed house and gorgeous music performed.

The concert started with Mozart’s simply magical Concerto in A Major for Clarinet and Orchestra with Godfrey Mifsud, Malta’s leading clarinettist, tacking the solo part. Godfrey needs no introduction and yesterday he consolidated his reputation as a consummate musician.

His is a velvety tone, refined and sensuous with an evenness throughout the whole gamut of the tonal spectrum that shows extraordinary technique not least in breath control. The simply gorgeous second movement is one of the sublime moments in music history and soloist and orchestra more than rose up to the occasion to make it memorable.

Worthy of mention, too, was the clarity and articulation in the more virtuosic passages for both the soloist and the orchestra. The fine timbre of a Mozartian fabric was never obscured or dulled and this was one fine performance from start to finish.

Seħer op. 39 (lyrics: Daniel Massa)is Vella’s first song cycle composed in 1984 (he has since written six more), and it is also the first-ever work in the genre using the Maltese language as a medium. In this work, the composer manifests his unique and extraordinary understanding of the voice.

While there are moments when the vocal instrument blends seamlessly with the rest of the orchestral texture, Vella’s instinctive empathy with the voice enables him to bring out the beauty, expressiveness, and uniqueness that mark out this instrument as most precious. Melody is never far from the surface, and his wonderful orchestration brings out both the technical and the lyrical powers of his idiosyncratic idiom.

This is a very beautiful work which has not lost its freshness with age. Soprano Maria Frendo tackled the demanding work with intelligence and a clarity of tone that marks the unique tone quality of her voice.  Phrasing was impeccable and the dynamic range explored every nuance of the text.  This was the first time that Seħer was performed and it was extremely well received by the enthusiastic audience.

The last work on the programme was Beethoven much-loved Symphony in C Minor no. 5 op. 67. A work of power, intensity, and intellectual engagement, it is the kind of work that will either go right or wrong. The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of VIAF’s Artistic Director Joseph Vella, rose admirably to deliver a performance that was characterised by assurance, a quiet confidence, and power. It is not easy to maintain a classic poise when the emotional intensity reaches dizzying heights, but this was achieved in yesterday’s performance. The quiet second movement was delectable and contrasted sharply with the turbulent Scherzo, while the famous first few bars of the Symphony set the right emotional level for the rest of the work, reaching a tremendous climax in last movement. Throughout, Joseph Vella displayed a maturity and intelligence in the interpretation of these three beautiful works.  Understated yet firm, he exudes confidence and control, and this evening he also showed his extraordinary mettle with his fine composition. An all-rounder!

At the end, the audience spontaneously rose in thunderous applause and the standing ovation was testimony to the appreciation it delivered to the performers.

Well done to all!