VIAF 2021


As all good things must come to an end, so did this year’s edition of a very prestigious festival. The setting was the splendid Baroque basilica of St. George. It was an ideal ambience in which the music sounded so much at home. That was not only regarding the austerely beautiful music by Palestrina, but also works by later composers active in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The latest was the late, very much lamented Joseph Vella who was the festival’s founder and artistic director for its first twenty editions.

The music performed and so energetically directed by Canon Frendo shared the same spiritual message of each composer, reaching out in praise of the Almighty, of reflection and awe, of simple yet at the same time  deep concentration. Whichever stylistic and idiomatic path was embarked upon, eventually led to the same conclusion and destination.

The laudatory nature of Palestrina’s Ave Maria was no less uplifting than his Pulchra Est and Vulnerasti Cor Meum in which every phrase counted especially given the clearly incisive articulation of the singers. The wonderful Kyrie Eleison from the Missa Papae Marcelli concluded the earlier part of the concert devoted to Palestrina. It was a good choice, because every choir worth its salt could not do without a good dose of him.

The priest-composer Lorenzo Perosi’s three works which followed, in their projection brought forth the complementary differences which distinguish them. The main facet was the attractiveness and beauty of their rich melodic vocal lines. In O Sanctissima Anima the vocal forces were treated with equal importance and clad in sheerly beautiful melodies; and the four-part male ensemble is accorded more prominence. At the same time this tended to render more obvious the presence of a voice which tended to sound too strong. The phrasing was very precise but homogeneity suffered a bit. Tu es Petrus differed a bit in having a strong triumphalist flavour to it but nonetheless pleasing, because of the contrasts provided with the two previous pieces.

Laudate Pueri Choir had a long-lasting musical relationship with another priest-composer Domenico Bartolucci (1917-2013). They have been the foremost promoters of his amazing music which earned him the reputation of being a giant of 20th century polyphony.  So very evident was this in his motet Veni Sanctae Spiritus and his very beautiful devotional and laudatory Tota Pulchra.

The very special collaboration between Laudate Pueri Choir and Joseph Vella’s choral works, both large-and small-scale, is well known in these islands. He wrote for them some exquisite works for this choir including the “ravishing motet”(no less) in which he treats all voices equally and lovingly. Vella’s Vinea Fuit Pacifica, from Music for a Wedding, Op.34 brought back warm memories when together with a small four-part vocal ensemble from his Akkademja Choir (disbanded in 1994) and string quartet, we sang it at Moira Barbieri’s and Luke Azzopardi’s wedding on 12 December 1982. Utterly beautiful and unforgettable like among others the soprano solo in Op.34 Ego Dilecto Meo.

Arranged by Joseph Vella for the Choir’s female SSAA sections Giuseppe Caruana’s Eucharistic hymn T’Adoriam Ostia Divina (Nadurawk ja Ħobż tas-Sema) achieved fame abroad and is still sung in many faraway churches. The purity of the voices in outstanding homogeneous balance and texture, the inspired text by Dun Karm, the aura of mysticism and Vella’s harmonies were nigh perfection. This also coloured the evening hymn Riesaq il-Lejl Mulejja, another splendid Caruana/Psaila collaboration arranged by Joseph Vella.

Well done to Canon Frendo, VIAF  artistic director and his very very hard-working team: Maria Frendo, Francis and George Camilleri and ALL the others too many to mention; the many sponsors too. Thank you for keeping alive Joseph Vella’s legacy and I look forward, God willing, to next year’s silver jubilee edition. THANK YOU ALL!

Albert George Storace