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Twelve Days of Christmas: 'A Maltese Christmas'

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G. Abos, A Maltese Christmas, Kölner Akademie, M.A. Willens

(released on November 13, 2015)
cpo 777978-2 | 67'53"
Michael Alexander Willens and his Kölner Akademie continue to produce remarkable discoveries in their series of discs on the CPO label. Their latest recording features three previously unrecorded sacred works by Girolamo Abos (1715–1760), a composer born in Malta but who worked in London and Naples, where he taught Giovanni Paisiello. The sound was captured during a live concert last January in honor of the composer's 300th birthday, in St. Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral (Valletta, Malta) during the Valletta International Baroque Festival.

Although billed as music for Christmas, the three pieces here are all set to general texts, meaning they could be performed as a set on any major feast: the Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel canticle for the end of Lauds, the Magnificat canticle (SATB) for the end of Vespers, and a Mass for two choruses (both SSATB, like the Benedictus setting, and only the Kyrie and Gloria movements). One can hear much of the young Mozart's style of the early Salzburg sacred music in these pieces, likely by way of Paisiello, especially in the way he uses the voices more as a way of unfurling unusual harmonic progression more than as contrapuntal lines. The orchestral writing is mostly doubling of voices, with a few unexpected moments, like the charming duet of the bass soloist with an earnest bassoon in the "In sanctitate" movement of the Benedictus. The Gloria movement of the Mass, with its heraldic trumpet parts and expansive choral and soloistic writing, should be on many choir wish lists. The ensemble of ten singers makes an excellent group sound, with some pleasing individual contributions, with soprano Maïlys De Villoutreys standing out as particularly beautiful.

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