I first heard KorMalta singing Biber's Requiem at the Dominican Basilica in Valletta during the recent edition of The Three Palaces Festival. I liked what I heard and duly said and wrote so. Some time after I read about the excitement at the imminent first trip abroad of Malta's national choir. Asking where they were going I was told "Vienna". Asking when, it happened to be just the day before my long planned, nth visit to the Austrian capital.
The reason was the choir's participation during the inauguration of the Maltese Crib in Vienna and singing a Mass at the Votivkirche (Votive Church), close to the Ringstraße. This big neo-Gothic church is the parish church of the international Catholic community. Although some Catholic communities have their own churches, the Votivkirche brings together various Catholic groups. The parish priest is a native of Hal Kirkop, Fr. Joe Farrugia; he has been at the helm for decades and is a multilingual bundle of energy.
This year marks the 140th anniversary of the church's consecration in 1879. It was built by order of Emperor Franz Josef who in the late 1850s had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on the site while inspecting work on the demolition of Vienna's old defensive walls and outlying bastions.
Naturally, when I asked what was being planned for KorMalta’s visit to Vienna, I was told that on Friday 15 November a Maltese crib was to be installed at the University Christmas Market and the following evening KorMalta was to sing at Mass in the church. The only detail I could get was that the Mass was the Missa Brevis by Leo Delibes (1836-91). I asked if a place could be reserved for me in church and the reply was positive and who knows I could possibly be seated with the President's entourage. This was news to me and I thought perhaps it was a joke, but it was true. The Maltese embassy in Vienna was busily involved in these events spread over about 48 hours and collaboration with the Office of the President of Malta. Members of the Maltese community in Vienna were present as were members of the Austrian-Maltese Friendship Society. Arriving shortly before Mass an official approached me, welcomed me and gave instructions for me to be seated in the official guest area. This was more than I expected. Presently President Dr. George Vella and Mrs. Vella arrived with their party and once they were seated Mass started.
The Delibes Missa Brevis is without a Credo otherwise it consists of Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. Mass was con-celebrated by Father Joe Farrugia and Mgr. Joseph Grech while KorMalta was directed by Riccardo Bianchi. Mark Vassallo was at the organ. KorMalta did us proud. They sang in a polished manner and the sound projected from the organ loft was balanced, cohesive and crisply phrased. Dynamics were well controlled and in some more dramatic moments there was the necessary strength and vigour. The choir's normal complement is around 50 but on this visit abroad 15 members were specially selected for the project by Riccardo Bianchi. They produced a fine, clean, strong cohesive sound which belied their relatively small number.
During the Gloria there was some solo singing by bass Albert Buttigieg on very fine form and very clear. Other solo parts here were sung by Yanika Degiorgio who sounded a little bit too faint and soft. Various unaccompanied works were sung such as during the Introit with O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) and during Communion O Sacrum Convivium by Luigi Molfino (1916-2012) and another version of O Magnum Mysterium by Tomás Luís de Victoria (1548-1611). Midway through the Mass, some Gregorian solos were sung by Albert Buttigieg and Riccardo Bianchi. A trio of singers contributed their part too: soprano Mariette Borg, alto Nicole Vassallo and tenor Karl Cassar in an Ave Maria by Franz Biebl (1906-2001).
The true mettle of a choral group is their ability to sing unaccompanied work well. This small ensemble from within KorMalta performed these works very well indeed and in different styles, idioms and that with great facility. Concluding Fr. Farrugia remarked that this first visit of a President of Malta to his church was a great honour and lauded KorMalta for their singing at which a very warm applause for them was accorded. A reception followed in the church where the presidential couple mingled with the guest and of course the choir members and director.