Treasures from Baroque Malta

The Rose Ensemble

Let me begin by paraphrasing the final two sentences of the programme note for this charming CD of anonymous sacred music from 17th-century Malta ‘How could the composers of these pieces not be known? How is it possible that these pieces haven’t been performed in hundreds of years?’ It is perhaps unsurprising that the music in Malta’s great religious establishments in Mdina run by the wealthy Knights of St John should be of a superlative standard, clearly influenced by musical developments in Venice, Rome and other Mediterranean centres of excellence, but the question of who composed it and why we should have no hint as to their identity is more puzzling. Surely there must at least be lists somewhere of performers and people who help prominent church posts – or perhaps not. The excellent American Rose Ensemble under the direction of Jordan Sramek provide simply radiant performances of this long-neglected repertoire, with superb vocalists singing equally effectively as soloists and in consort, while ably supported by a small but beautifully effective instrumental ensemble. The rich acoustic of St Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota is used to perfect effect, giving this multitextured music a lovely glow vividly captured by sound engineer Peter Nothnagel. I cannot praise too much this excellent project, researched and brought to performance by the group’s director, executed to such a high standard by the musicians of the Rose Ensemble and released on their own label. So often with this sort of well-intentioned championing of neglected music, either the standard of the repertoire itself or the quality of the performances can be disappointing – this production is very much the opposite, with superlative performances of richly rewarding music. Let us hope that some time composers’ names can be matched to this extraordinary collection. Somewhat out of place in almost every respect except that it is setting a text in Maltese is a concluding piece by contemporary American composer Timothy C. Takach – it does show the choir’s versatility and is a thoroughly competent piece of writing, and might work well as a concert encore alongside this repertoire, but to my mind doesn’t really add anything to this CD. At just under five minutes of a 76-minute programme, though, we can easily overlook this.

D. James Ross

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