At 77, Freddie Mizzi, Malta’s veteran and renowned clarinettist, is still very busy teaching. He says he leaves the performing bit for his students. Some include our most accomplished clarinettists and saxophone players.
Imagination requires supreme technique and energy and Godfrey Mifsud gave a magnificent performance- Albert Storace
Mizzi’s versatility also extends to the sax family, and as a performer his versatility covers the classical, modern and jazz idioms. For quite some time now Mizzi has been concentrating on composition and in a recent morning recital at the Music Room, St James’s Cavalier, Valletta, no less than three world premieres of recent and not so recent com-positions were included in a programme of his works.
The very well-attended recital was presented by Sarah Spiteri who also performed the Rhapsodic Variations for solo violin, written for Carmine Lauri, who premiered it last summer.
As he shows in an older work (Adagio for Clarinet and Strings), Mizzi shows he has a penchant for writing for strings, and in the Rhapsodic Variations, so ably performed by Spiteri, from a brief two-bar theme classic in spirit and style, he weaves a number of intricate variations which gradually veer smoothly into Mizzi’s other world of jazz.
This lovely work was followed by the world premiere of Prayer To My Mother which featured Spiteri again but this time as narrator as she recited the eponymous poem by Ġorġ Zammit (1908-90).
Its origins go back some two decades when Mizzi wrote it as a song along classical lines and which was sung and recorded by Helen Micallef. He went back to it and reworked the music into one for cello, here performed by Jacob Portelli, who accompanied the narrator.
The work is compact, brief and understandably very elegiac and moving, especially with the concluding lines, “One joy I never knew/is that of looking into your eyes/ there never was a fairer rose than you/upon the plains of paradise”. Mizzi’s mother died 10 days after giving birth to him.
Godfrey Mifsud, one of the leading Maltese clarinettists of his generation, performed Imagination for solo clarinet.
This work was composed in Florida and premiered by Mizzi himself in Mannheim in 1980. It is a virtuoso piece, of a jazzy and improvisatory nature, requiring supreme technique and energy, and Mifsud gave a magnificent performance.
Another shining star in the local clarinet firmament is Nathalie Cachia Bonavia, who with Mizzi’s grandson, pianist Andrew Bugeja, performed the world premiere of Interlude.
Apart from the clarinettist, the work requires a pianist of great sensitivity and who introduces the piece, and once the clarinet takes over, supports the clarinet’s broad melodies with soft chords. The main contrast with the previous work is the more sedate yet intense character of the piece, in which well-sustained breathing and the smoothest of legato work manages to harness the all-enveloping warmth of the music. The brief piano solo towards the later part of the work gave way to the clarinet which brought it home fading away very gently.
The last work was another world premiere, of the Saxophone Trio featuring B flat tenor sax Angelo Borg, first E flat alto sax Fabian Bonello and second E flat alto sax Samuel Aquilina.
Mizzi dedicated it to his late friend, band-leader Paul Arnaud (1911-2004) but shelved it for various reasons until fairly recently. While he mainly builds it upon a jazz harmonic structure, he creates a successful amalgamation of classical and jazz idioms.
Its two more complex outer movements (London: Piccadilly Circus and Merry-Go-Round) provide a widely contrasting frame to the second movement, entitled In the Still of the Night, the name of which is self-explanatory regarding mood, and with broad melodies highlighting the atmosphere.
The interplay and sharing of work between the three performers worked very well, whether in the bustling first movement with a more prominent role for the first alto, or in the third movement, which is coloured by complex jazz phrases.
The three saxophonists, like all the other musicians tasking part in this recital, did Mizzi proud, and his endorsement of their work spoke for their accomplished performance.
May Mizzi continue with his work and one hopes that these works find themselves recorded on CD so as to enrich further recorded Maltese chamber music.
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