Sunday 04 December 2022

“Celebrating Greatness” – St Paul Choral Society pays tribute to two great composers

The anniversaries of two great composers are being celebrated in two concerts Laudate Dominum by the St Paul Choral Society (SPCS). 2020 marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and this year marks bicentenary of the birth of the great composer César Franck (1822-1890).

The SPCS needs no introduction on the music scene being one of Malta’s leading polyphonic choirs. Founded in 1998, it has more than 50 members who meet every week for rehearsals and performances. Since its inception it has been under the musical direction of Dr Hugo Agius Muscat and it has given more than 290 performances in Malta and abroad.

Beethoven is a story of triumph and tragedy, a personality, an icon who towered above his contemporaries in his ability to evoke the extremes of the human spirit. Few significant composers since his day have escaped his influence or failed to acknowledge the power of his work. As for his later works, it is mind-boggling to believe any one person actually wrote these, let alone someone who was completely deaf.
By October 2019 the SPCS was rehearsing for a performance of Beethoven’s Mass in C major (Op.86) at its biennial grand concert. A number of the choristers were also preparing to go to Vienna to perform this same Mass which was going to be sung at Stephansdom in July 2020 under the baton of Gerald Wirth, president of the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
Beethoven held the Mass in C in high regard remarking, “I believe that I have treated the text as it has seldom been treated before.” The work is regarded as a markedly modern, forward-looking work in the history of the development of church music (Ernst Hertrich). 
The onset of the pandemic put paid to all the plans but now two years later, this Mass will be sung in two concerts: at St Paul’s Cathedral, Mdina and at St Publius Parish Church, Floriana. The choir had the privilege of having master classes in September 2022 with Gerald Wirth in preparation for this concert. This is the second time the choir has had classes with this world-renowned musician in Malta. The workshop is partly being funded by the Training Initiatives Scheme managed by the Malta Council for Voluntary Sector’.
The SPCS will also be singing two of Franck’s compositions. The Belgian-born French composer and organist wrote some glorious music, brimming with inventive, intoxicating melodies, incorporating the achievements of Romanticism within a classic framework and making a profound impression on Liszt.  And yet, he’s far and away remembered for this one piece of music, Panis Angelicus, which has been recorded hundreds of times and is still performed frequently the world over. The choir will be singing this much-loved piece.  
Music Director Hugo Agius Muscat has chosen for the opening piece of the concert, the less well-known beautiful Psaume 150, which Franck wrote for four-part choir, orchestra and organ, in 1883 and which the choir will be singing in the original French.

The incipit “Halleluiah! Louez le Dieu, caché dans ses saints tabernacles” is sung to the haunting soft repeated D of the opening with the basses chanting ‘Hallelujah’ and the voices picking this up through the piece as well as the eleven acclamations of praise, to a crescendo fortissimo finale.  This wonderful hymn brings the Christian psalter of 150 psalms to an end, enunciating a fundamental human attitude towards God: praise.

The Mdina Cathedral concert on Friday, 14 October is in aid of Hospice Malta while the one at St Publius Parish Church on Friday, 21 October is in aid of the parish church. The orchestra will be led by Sarah Spiteri while the organ will be played by Elisabeth Conrad. The vocal soloists will be Rosabelle Bianchi, Claire Massa, Charles Vincenti and Albert Buttigieg.

Bookings and tickets:

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