Collection: The Malta Manuscripts

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COMPOSERS: Carissimi,Monteverdi
LABELS: Discovery
WORKS: Emendemus in melius; Salve regina
PERFORMER: Choir of New College, Oxford, London Bach Consort/Edward Higginbottom
CATALOGUE NO: D 24730 DDD

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Although praise for Maltese music would in earlier years have simply bemused people, this CD should set the situation to rights, for the musical archives of Mdina Cathedral have yielded up several pleasurable treasures from the past. Rediscovered only a few years ago, these ecclesiastical compositions testify to the vigour and intensity of choral culture on the island.

The music ranges from that of local men happily imitating well-known Italians to hitherto hidden works by Carissimi and Monteverdi. Two unique masterpieces are Carissimi’s moving Lenten responsory Emendemus in melius and his expressive and beautifully scored Salve regina for Compline.

The other surprise is a local attempt at turning a secular piece from Monteverdi’s Seventh Book of Madrigals into a delightfully jumbled selection of verses from Lauda Sion. The model, Chiome d’oro, grows in this contrafactum from a duet to a trio, which is all very well but for the fact that the Latin verses appear in the order 21, 15, 14, 2 and 1, making no sense liturgically. Magic Maltese lottery numbers?

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The minor composers, mostly Sicilian, contribute a handful of motets and a litany to this well-balanced programme. The performances, which are very good, are matched by a suitably ecclesiastical acoustic. Denis Stevens