Premiered choral and orchestral work by maestro Mark Agius
On the day of the feast of St Ursula, at a solemn mass held on Friday, 21 October, at the church of the Monastery of the Gerosolimitan Cloistered Nuns of St Ursula in Valletta, the St Paul’s Chamber Ensemble, under the direction of Mark Agius, maestro di Cappella of the Church of St Ursula, premiered a fully-fledged sacred choral work for soloists, SATB and chamber orchestra which consisted of strings, woodwinds, French horn and organ. Holy mass was celebrated by His Grace Archbishop Charles Scicluna to a well-attended congregation and at which Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta were also in attendance.
Maestro Agius composed the Missa Solemnis Sancti Martiti (2016), including an Antifon to St Ursula scored to a poem penned by Gemma Dingli, for the occasion. The soloists who mastered and executed their individual parts with utmost competence were sung by well-accomplished artists who need no introduction to our local scene, namely Anita Vella Bondin and Karen Gatt Darmenia (sopranos), Arthur Micallef (tenor), May Caruana (contralto), Ivan Vella (baritone) and James Vella Bondin (bass).
The overall harmonic organisation of the work is reminiscent of the Roman School 16th-century representative stile antico style, displaying intricate and complex polyphonic textures, supported by chordal passages by both the orchestra and organ. Maestro Agius’ style of composition has led him to employ interchanging unrelated modulations between the sections; producing elaborate and lyrical melodic contours between the vocal parts. The work also employs 16th and 17th-century imitative counterpoint, doubling of voices between the sopranos and tenor, and also incorporates dissonant higher diatonic chords which led the whole composition to a whole dimensional sphere of sounds and textures.
The sacred work, set to the traditional Latin text, contained four main movements: Kyrie (Andnate e solenne), Gloria (Andante maestoso), Sanctus et Benedictus (Adagio con devozione) and Agnus Dei (Adagio con devozione). At the end of the mass, Maestro Agius presented the scores of the Mass and Antifon to Madre Agnes, Prioress of the Gerosolimitan Cloistered Nuns of St Ursula, who thanked all those who made this wonderful and prestigious occasion possible.
The St Paul’s Chamber Ensemble has other important future engagements on their agenda which includes two Christmas Concerts to be held on 13 and 17 December at Paola Parish Church and Balzan Parish Church, respectively. The ensemble is also embarking on a major performance dedicated to the works by Maestro Joseph Sammut, a prominent conductor and composer who led the then National Orchestra of Malta for nearly 25 years.