It was to be expected that such an important day would be commemorated even with music. The European Union anthem cites a section from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which is a work inspired by Schiller’s Ode to Joy, An die Freude. What better way to celebrate than with a performance of this immortal work?

Entrusting its interpretation to Brian Schembri, that well-tried and passionate Beethovenian, was the most natural thing to do. Schembri had a formidable combination of forces at his command, in blissful thrall at the altar of fine, exciting music-making that resounded through the Republic Hall of the Mediterranean Conference Centre.

The elements involved were the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (leader Marcelline Agius), musicians from the EU Youth Orchestra, the specially formed and trained Malta-EU Presidency Choir (MEUPC) and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Riccardo Bianchi was chorus master and one must add that the MEUPC consists of the cream of members of various local choirs.

In all three Baltic republics, choir singing is a deeply-rooted way of life, so the combined choral forces were a guarantee of the eventually splendid delivery they gave. They were very precise, diction was very good, singing was crisp and well-phrased, and entries, even in the more difficult passages such as that ‘infernal’ fugue, were on cue.

The energy and driving force of the opening movement had carried all before it and the same happened in the scherzo, but with even greater urgency the tension and sweep relieved in the trio sections. The slow movement was sublime, tender and enchanting.

The MEUPC consists of the cream of various local choirs

The conclusion with the choir and soloists reached different dizzy heights. The quartet of soloists consisted of Elisabeth Teige, Marvic Monreal, Thomas Mohr and Franz Hawlata. I found the ladies had an edge on the gentlemen.

It was to me of infinite delight to hear our compatriot, mezzo-soprano Marvic Monreal’s richly assertive and warm voice adding to the rich texture of the quartet. May she continue to re­gister progress in her studies abroad and may we hear more of her. Even as a much younger and far less experienced singer whom I heard years ago during an MCI concert, one just knew and felt that she had a lot of potential.

With all these elements at work it is no wonder that the symphony was accorded a standing ovation by the large audience.

Another Maltese singer taking part in this concert was tenor Nico Darmanin. He sang the solo part in Karl Fiorini’s If, for tenor and orchestra, a work inspired by Kipling’s very famous homonymous poem. There was no information as to whether this was a world or Malta premiere performance.

Fiorini lets the text and the expressive interpretation of the singer to bring home the message. Darmanin was very expressive and he sang with all his heart. His diction was perfect and made every word count.

The famous text is all about “…a father’s advice to his son emphasising human dignity and wisdom, but more essentially what it undertakes to be a man of good character,” to quote Fiorini’s brief note.

I liked this work, and Darmanin’s singing was better than ever. The orchestration naturally reflects the various aspects of this sage text, which includes some very acute climaxes, especially on the word “triumph” in the second stanza and at the end of the third stanza at the highest in the fourth: “If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you”.

Darmanin steered and manoeuvred these climaxes with the greatest smoothness and ease. Among the many striking moments of this work were “don’t deal in lies” (first stanza) and the sense of foreboding and doom in the two concluding lines of the second stanza.

The message is an eternal one and everybody could well do with a profound reading of Kipling’s message, rendered even more absorbing by Fiorini’s music.

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