Monday, 01 July 2013

Mysterium Visitatione: Inaugurating Art by Music

by Robert L. Grech

As a well seasoned concert attendee, yesterday’s experience was one of those instances where quality and beauty could be sensed from the moment that one entered the venue. It is my usual fixation with punctuality that allowed me to find myself half an hour early before the concert started. It is here that this wonderful experience begun. When I entered the Għarb Basilica, the well known soprano Marouska Attard was warming up with the well established Corida String Quartet and it is from the very first few nuances of music that one could easily notice that it was going to be a concert of impeccable standard.

The aim of the concert was to inaugurate the restoration of two vernacular paintings belonging to the rich cultural patrimony of the Parish of the Our Lady of the Visitation of Għarb. One of them in particular, and which was prominently displayed on an easel, was the earliest titular painting of the Visitation which used to grace the old church dedicated to the visitation. It was replaced by the larger church dedicated to Our Lady of the Visitation, popularly known as taż-żejt.

The concert had as its object the marriage of art and music. This was consequently introduced and explained in the opening speech delivered by the archpriest of Għarb, Mgr. J. Sultana, who showed a strong appreciation towards the well attended audience presided by Hon. Minister for Gozo, Dr. Anton Refalo.  Moreover, Dr Sarah Grech, acting as the presenter, proceeded to introduce the various well selected repertoires that the audience had the pleasure to hear.

The first selections began with the Soprano’s energetic interpretation of F. Durante’s “Virgin, tutto amor”, a wonderful composition typical of the Italian Baroque style, setting a religious theme, and at the same time complimenting the interior of the church. The Baroque style was continued with the Soprano’s passionate interpretation of the “Ave Maria” by G.Caccini, setting a very nostalgic quasi mystical atmosphere, further sustained by the aria, “Quia respexit humiliataem”, from the “Magnificat” in D major by J.S. Bach; displaying the typical characteristics of the late baroque  Bachian counterpoint. However, the contemporary “Sliema” by the Maltese composer P. Portelli, another wonderful composition, gave a sudden break in atmosphere thereby brining to conclusion the first series of the repertoire in anticipation for an art historical explanation of the restored paintings given by Dr. Joe Galea. Dr Galea went into a deep discussion on the present titular painting of the Għarb Basilica and the titular painting of the taż-żejt church; both containing the same subject of the Visitation of Our Lady. He went a considerable way to explain the archival history of the paintings, and their composition.

The end of the speech marked the start of the second selection of repertoire. This time as, befitting the season, the Cordia String Quartet performed the “Summer” violin concerto in G minor, from the first movement of the four seasons by A. Vivaldi, in which the ending seemed to evoke the image of a turbulent storm, what storm in October!  It is from here that Soprano Marouska again took the helm and with, “Ich will dir mein herze schenken”, an aria from the “St. Matthew’s Passion” by J.S. Bach, displayed a wonderful sense of the contrapuntal technique. The next three pieces to be performed gave the audience a taste of the English Baroque stock as characterized by G. F Handel. The first piece, “O Mio Signor”, a Largo from the opera “Xerxes”, was a reminder of the composer’s fascination with the Italian opera. However, the next two pieces, “How beautiful are the feet and He shall feed his flock”, from the Oratorio Messiah, are from the time when Handel started to focus and develop the English Choral works. This was concluded by a speech given by Mr. Godwin Cutajar, who gave a detailed explanation of previous conditions and restoration interventions on the work of art and also the current procedures carried out on the latest restoration.

It is this last part of the concert, when after being taken into a world where one could ‘Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget’, what was happening in the world outside, the audience was gradually lulled out of the devotional baroque trip into the classical style qualities as expressed in the “Laudate Dominum”, form “Vespare solennes de confessore”, and the “Ave Verum”, by W.A. Mozart. Shortly after a speech given by Mayor David Apap, Marouska and the quartet, brought the audience onto the late realms of romanticism with the “Pie Jesu”, from Requiem by G. Faure, and to the contemporary eclecticism of Leonard Bernstein’s “A simple song”, as if to remind us that this is the apex of centuries of musical development because the future is nothing more than the continuation of the past.

Thankfully, the Gozitan arts culture has been growing for quite a number of decades and has contributed much high quality recitals to our Maltese social scene. There is sparsely a weekend without a cultural activity going on, and this shows how we all are opening up to culture. And it is thanks to the Soprano Marouska Attard and the Cordia String Quartet that another remarkable performance has been added to our rich cultural milieu.

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