The thing to remember when listening to this excellent CD is
that the organ world of Malta and Gozo is dominated by the Roman
and Napoli musical tradition. I admit to believing that as the
country had been a British colony between 1814 and 1964 there
would be a considerable number of British-built instruments.
To be fair, the Anglican St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral in
Valletta does have a ‘Father’ Smith organ. However, most of
the historic instruments were built in the Italian style. The
present CD highlights a number of ‘Parish Churches’ all of which
are Roman Catholic.
The leading light of Maltese organ building is Robert
Buhagiar. After taking a degree in Electrical Engineering
at the University of Malta, he served an apprenticeship with
Masciono Organi, which is the oldest surviving Italian organ
builder. Since his return to Malta in 1998, Buhagiar has restored
and re-voiced more than twenty organs, including most of the
organs featured on this recording.
The CD gets off to a great start with three pieces played on
the one-manual Mdina Cathedral organ. This was built by Rossi
in 1774. Alessandro Scarlatti’s sonata-like ‘Toccata settima’
sounds well on this small instrument. The charming ‘Ligatura
per organ’ is by Carlo Cotumacci who was a pupil of Scarlatti.
The final piece from Mdina is an enjoyable Canzona by Girolamo
Frescobaldi. The tone of the stops used in this piece is delightful.
Qrendi is an old village in to the south-west of the capital
Valetta. The parish church is baroque and the organ is Neapolitan,
built by Severino and installed in 1778. It is located in a
small loft at the east end of the church behind the High Altar.
The pedal board has no independent stops and is permanently
coupled to the single manual. Two works by Frescobaldi reveal
just how impressive the sound of this petite instrument can
be. The ‘Toccata per elevazione’ is particularly charming.
The next organ in the track listings is located at the Oratory
of the Holy Cross, Cospicua Parish Church on the east side of
Valetta. Restored in 2009, this is another ‘bijou’ instrument.
It is certainly not possible to play ‘warhorses’ on this organ,
however the tone is particularly bright because of the 4'
foundation stop. The two pieces by Domenco Zipoli are ideally
suited to this sound. The present organist contributes a short
‘Pastoral Improvisation’ that is effective.
Another work by Novenko begins the exploration of the large
instrument at the Rotunda of Mosta. This church was lucky to
survive a direct hit from a German bomb in 1942. Fortunately,
the forced-labour weapons manufacturers in German-occupied Czechoslovakia
had sabotaged it. The organ was built in 1885 by Inzoli of Crema,
Italy: it is the largest instrument in the Maltese Islands.
I am not sure about the musical value of Novenko’s ‘Carillon
Prelude’; however, it does let the listener hear the fine campanelli.
Padre Davide da Bergamo’s ‘Elevazione’ is a powerful work that
the liner notes rightly point out is far removed from the usual
mystic style associated with a piece typically used at the consecration
of the Body and Blood of Christ. I enjoyed the lively Verso
in G and dignified Verso Marcia by Giuseppe Cerruti. They sound
like something heard on a fairground organ. Excellent sound.
The next two instruments are on the island of Gozo. Fontana
Parish Church organ dates from 1908 and was built by the Sicilian
organ builder Laudani e Giudici. It is a well-balanced organ
that has ‘colour and brightness’ rather than ‘power’. Novenko
plays another, more typical, ‘Elevazione’ – this time by Luigi
Bottazzo, who hailed from Padova. This is followed by the same
composer’s rather operatic ‘March religioso’. The other representative
instrument from Gozo is the much larger organ in Nadur Parish
Church. This was built in 1897 by Inzoli. The delightful ‘6
versi in D’ by Giuseppe Garibaldi is a sheer delight: look out
for the lovely ‘flauto soprani’. This organ has an engaging
sound and includes ‘string’ stops.
Back on the main island, the one-manual organ in Balzan Parish
Church was built in 1827 by F. Patane Platania from Sicily.
The first piece, is a ‘Pastorale’ is by Fedele Fenaroli and
the second is a Short Prelude in C by Muzio Clementi who is
best known for his pedagogic piano music: this organ piece is
a little gem
The final venue is Naxxar Parish church which lies to the north-west
of Valletta. It is an example of a Sicilian organ built by Santucci
in 1775. It has been heavily restored but has retained much
of the original pipework. Two works are performed here. The
first is a short ‘Pastorale’
by Francesco Azzopardi that is one of the few pieces of organ
music to have been composed in Malta. The final work is the
‘Sonata 85 in C’ by Vincenzo Panerai. This is a great, lively
piece that would sound just as good on the piano. It concludes
this excellent tour of the organs of Maltese churches.
The playing by Czech-born Michal Novenko is impressive. He is
able to tailor his style to suit the idiosyncrasies of each
organ. The CD booklet is excellent. All the composers featured
are given brief biographies with notes about their music. As
essential for all organ recordings there are full specifications
given for all eight instruments. Included are a number of excellent
black and white photographs of each instrument. Most telling
of all, a picture of the Cospicua Oratory organ before restoration
features on the back cover. It literally looks as if a bomb
has hit it. Full credit to Mr Buhagiar for rebuilding this!
I enjoyed every note in this new Priory release. It is always
fascinating to hear a variety of different instruments. It is
good to know that there is a fine selection of organs present
and correct in Malta and Gozo. There is certainly scope for
future recordings. There are more than 360 churches on these
islands however, I understand that not all of them have viable
instruments. Nevertheless, with the sterling work of the local
organ builder, there seems to an ever-growing number of possibilities.
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Toccata settima [7:39]
Carlo COTUMACCI (1709-1785)
Ligatura per organo [3:52]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Canzona dopo l’epistola [3:17]
Toccata per elevazione [4:01] Canzona quarti toni post il communion
Domenico ZIPOLI (1688-1726)
Versetto in F major [0:51] 4 versi in D minor [3:57]
Michal NOVENKO (b.1962)
Pastoral Improvisation [1:05]
Carillon Prelude [1:41]
Padre Davide de BERGAMO
Giuseppe CERRUTI (1803-1869)
Verso in G [1:15] Verso (Marcia) in G [1:51]
Luigi BOTTAZZO (1845-1924)
Elevazione [4:25] Marcia religiosa [1:44]
Giuseppe GARIBALDI (1819-1908)
6 versi in D [6:22]
Fedele FENAROLI (1730-1818)
Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Short Prelude in G [1:03]
Francesco AZZOPARDI (1748-1809)
Pastorale in F [2:38]
Vincenzo PANERAI (18th
Sonata 85 in C [14:11]