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Johann Strauss’ effervescent music together with the gentle tempo of Viennese waltz rhythms provided an exciting opening to the tenth edition of Il-Kuncert tal-Milied organized by the Chorus Urbanus ( This addition to the traditional Christmas fare of past editions was a very welcome innovation when introduced last year. It certainly added up to the excitement of the chosen programme and complemented the sumptuous elegance of the recently refurbished Teatru Astra. Playing to a nearly full house, the National Orchestra under the direction of John Galea gave a highly inspired and truly excellent rendition of immortal creations that included Mozart’s intricate overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, with its moments of pure laughter transmuted into music. The captivating pace of the Johann Strauss’ Perpetuum Mobile and Auf der Jagd Polka, produced a crisp orchestral performance with notable instrumental interplay being evident throughout. The clockwork precision of the rendering was commendable. A hugely descriptive icon of Vienna’s notable landmark depicted in the immortal An der schonen blauen Donau together with the delicate Frühlingstimme, better known as the ‘Voices of Spring Waltz’ was exquisitely performed by the orchestra, coaxed into that quintessential lilt by conductor John Galea. One could easily assess the heights and refinement of our Orkestra Nazzjonali under Galea’s baton as soon as the first luminous moments of the ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ were played. The sunny elegance of the immensely popular Radetsky March brought the first half of the concert to a vibrant conclusion. Perhaps this Johann Strauss Sr. oeuvre is one of the greatest symbols of happiness ever attained in art. Whenever this march is performed audiences have always been enraptured by its tunefulness and the audience at Teatru Astra was no exception!

A short poem recited by the Chev. Joe M. Attard, heralded the second part of the concert which saw the Chorus Urbanus take centre stage and the limelight for its eminent performances of Christmas carols accompanied by the National Orchestra. The stage design by chorister Joseph Cauchi provided a state-of-the-art backdrop with intelligent lighting projections that provided an intensely dynamic atmosphere. The selection of carols kicked off by a warm interpretation of O Little Town of Bethlehem with the participation of Mario Portelli (tenor) accompanied by the choir. On a special request, Oliver Sperling’s Gloria de Noel, colourfully orchestrated by John Galea, was performed with verve, bringing memories of the highly successful Grand Concert at Strasbourg Cathedral last year as part of the Chorus Urbanus’ choral tour in Alsace. It was then Yvonne Galea’s (soprano) turn for a solo rendition of the sublime Silent Night. This carol’s apparently naïve contour make it one of the most challenging solo works if one abides by the dynamics inherent in the lyrics. Yvonne Galea sailed through this eponymous carol with great command. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire was given a highly stylish choral performance, in which baroque intimacy was never lost. It is a fact that choristers who have solo potentials are encouraged and this year’s edition saw six young female voices performing We’re Walking in the Air. Ruth Portelli, Gabriella Azzopardi, Christine Camilleri, Annalise Xerri, Marisa Galea and Stephanie Galea whose limpid voices were set against a background accompaniment by the choir were most effective. With such fresh new voices, a bright future beckons ahead for Chorus Urbanus.

It was then the turn of John Galea’s Hodie Christus Natus Est that was being premiered during this concert. This technically challenging piece was performed impeccably by the Chorus Urbanus. The solid five-part writing (SAATB) showed a strong command of technique and great attention to dynamics by both choir and orchestra rendered this piece one of the highlights of the concert. The brilliance of the orchestration seemed to translate the brilliance of Christ’s light that enveloped the whole creation when the Word was made flesh.

One of the most popular carols ever written, Adolphe Adam’s O Holy Night, was performed by tenor Joseph Aquilina, a regular guest singer in various past editions of this concert. The choir accompanied the soloist in an a 4 voci arrangement by John Galea that was very effective and the audience acknowledged this with a long applause. The very popular Ukrainian Bell Carol has become a household piece in each year’s concert and the Chorus Urbanus’ interpretation was very effective in representing the festive tolling of the bells, accompanied by a gentle sway from the choral members. Yvonne Galea and Joseph Aquilina teamed up with Noel Galea (bass) together with the Chorus Urbanus, to perform one of the most famous and best loved Christmas carols of all time, Adeste Fideles. The three soloists’ contribution gave the necessary glittering edge to this polished performance of this evergreen performed in three languages; Maltese, English and Latin. The concert came to an end with a rousing performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah by Handel, a piece that is justly considered a choral ‘cavallo di battaglia’. The long rounds of applause with four curtain calls were regaled with an encore performance of the Radetzky March that brought the concert to a sonorously rhythmic close ‘alla grande’.

George Borg Jr.