Charles Camilleri is unquestionably the best-known Maltese composer.
His huge and varied output includes works in almost every genre
ranging from short piano works to opera. Stylistically, too, his
music is remarkably varied with lighter works in folk-inflected
idiom and many more serious ones using more advanced techniques.
The release under review focuses on his lighter, folk-inflected
music. It also presents works from different periods of his busy
composing life: Malta Suite was composed in 1946 when the
composer was a mere fifteen.
The ballet Knights
of Malta was composed around tunes found in manuscripts
in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. These consist of the actual
music used by the ancient Knights of Malta and notated by
a Welshman who may have been employed as a court musician.
This information is drawn from the anonymous insert notes
accompanying this disc. The ballet suite consists of an overture
and four dances (Court Dance, Air de Branle,
Grandmaster’s Minuet and Celebration).
In the early 1960s,
Camilleri had a radio program on the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation in Toronto. At that time, he composed four Concertinos,
of which the First Concertino for clarinet and strings is
available on ASV CD DCA 1011. The Concertino No.4 “Summer
Nights in Malta” was originally written for
piano and orchestra and was revised in 1998 for two pianos
and orchestra, which is what we have here. It is in three
short movements, with two lively outer movements framing the
slow movement based on an earlier piano piece Summer
Nights in Malta. This is a very attractive little
work, and the slow movement is one of the loveliest things
that I have ever heard.
It is a truism
to say that Four Legends are based on Maltese
legends including “one of the best known, that of the Bride
of Mosta” (sic). The problem is: how many of us really know
Maltese legends? We are told nothing about them, but this
is a minor grumble because these colourful miniatures speak
for themselves and are quite enjoyable. Here they are: The
Folk Singer from Birguma, The Watchmaker from Gozo,
The Bride of Mosta and Grand Polka March, the
latter concluding the suite in high spirits.
Composed in 1961,
Overture Classique (sic) is based on a theme
by the 18th century Maltese composer Nicolo Isuard.
As one may expect, this is a lively, somewhat Neo-classical
concert-opener of great charm.
We are not told
when Camilleri’s opera Il-Weghda (“The Promise”)
was composed. It was first staged in 1984. Although written
in Maltese, the libretto tells a universal story, that of
a promise of marriage, at odds with the promise of a former
lover who declared that he would return. Did he? We are not
told. Anyway, the Intermezzo is another fine piece
that stands remarkably well on its own, as heard here.
As already mentioned
earlier in this review, Malta Suite is an early
work, since it was composed when the composer was a mere fifteen.
The music of the four movements (Country Dance, Waltz,
Nocturne, Village Fiesta) is fairly straightforward,
colourful and often lively, as with much else in this selection.
In short, a lovely
disc with unpretentious, colourful, well-crafted works in very
fine performances. Light music, maybe, but of the highest order.
Do not expect any earthshaking masterpieces here, but a bunch
of attractive and enjoyable miniatures.