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.