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CD Review

Charles Camilleri

War Cantata

  • War Cantata: Malta Besieged 1942 *
  • Missa Melitensis
Marita Bezzina, Claire Massa, Joseph Aquilina
* Words by John Cremona
Kevin Drake: narrator
Ensemble conducted by Charles Camilleri
National War Museum Association, Malta 53m DDD

A noble marriage of words and music, the collaboration between Charles Camilleri and John Cremona is espoused with masterly magnificence in Prof Peter Serracino Inglott's opening edifice that serves as a kind of introduction to the heavily charged music making on offer here.

As Fr. Peter says, many have used Malta's second siege for dramatic prowess but Cremona's beautifully textured poetry is indeed well served by the composer's melancholic, tension laden music. 'A Woman's Voice' is mysterious indeed, the text is read with knowing eruditeness by Kevin Drake who is a splendid narrator all round. Joseph Aquilina's tenor voice soars to high heavens in 'Message from Malta', another deeply charged literary contribution.

Sarah Frendo's passionate solo violin weaves its way through 'Homeless, we roofed the Evening', Evening Rain and Emerged from Night. The latter features Marita Bezzina who also sings with exemplary diction as does the indefatigable Claire Massa whose singing in the former poem is nothing short of bone chilling. The most evocative poem must be the aptly titled 'On the Machinegunning of a Fisherman at Sea', indelibly read by Kevin Drake who brings out the stark situation in no uncertain terms with the music taking on a staccato chatter that is also deeply wounding.

The concluding 'There are Sofas' is an apt title and the blank, mysterious ending makes us believe the horror and pitiless war often immortalized in patriotic pot-boilers that are so far off from the truth. The accompanying 'Missa Melitensis' is also deeply personal, no doubt a recollection of the firm catholic belief that is so intrinsic to the Maltese people and that which was so important in surviving the war years.

I cannot be more enthusiastic about such an important project that so deeply enriches our musical and literary heritage. Indeed I would stick my neck out by saying that this is Prof Camilleri's finest work in recent years and the combination of John Cremona's poems with his music was a masterstroke. In many ways, this combination reminded me of Wilfred Owen's words in his poem 'Strange Meeting' and the classic concluding lines of Benjamin Britten's 'War Requiem'

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now…

Copyright © 2002, Gerald Fenech