The Heart of Europe Tour took the choir to some of the finest churches and cathedrals in Germany, France and Luxemburg. The choir performed under the musical direction of Dr Hugo Agius Muscat and Assistant Director Cecilia Agius Muscat.
The choir’s first performance was a concert on 22nd August in the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) in the Baroque city of Blieskastel. The choir presented a well-balanced programme covering 16th to 20th-century music. The first half was performed a cappella, directed by Dr Hugo Agius Muscat, opening with the lovely motet Exsultate justi by Ludovico da Viadana, and ending with Maurice Duruflé’s sublime Ubi Caritas. The second half was accompanied on organ by the director, while Cecilia Agius Muscat ably took over the baton.
The day after, the choir visited the city of Trier, where it sang an a cappella programme in St Peter’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Germany, part of which dates from the fourth century BC and is a Unesco World Heritage site. .
On Saturday 24th August, the choir gave two performances in the city of Saarbrücken, the capital of Saarland; in the morning, it presented a concert in the Papal Basilica of St John the Baptist, as part of a regular series held in this church. During this performance, notable was a composition by the Director himself, O How Amiable Are Thy Dwellings. It was also a great pleasure to hear works by Benigno Zerafa (Magnus Dominus), Francesco Azopardi (Virgo Prudentissima) and Carmelo Scerri (Regina Coeli) shared with the public beyond our shores. John Rutter’s gentle The Lord Bless You and Keep You sounded particularly effective. The well-acclaimed performance ended with Handel’s Allelujah from the second Coronation Anthem.
In the evening the choir presented another concert in the Ludwigskirche, the principal Protestant church in this city. The choir presented the same programme as the morning and also included Mozart’s Sancta Maria Mater Dei.
Sunday 25th August was another busy day for the choir. Crossing over to France, in the morning, SPCS led the singing during the 10am High Mass in the Cathédrale St-Etienne, in Metz, capital of the Lorraine region. St-Etienne, a stunning Gothic cathedral dating from the 13th century, where Andrea Gabrieli’s echoing Missa Brevis was indeed well suited.
In the afternoon, the choir then travelled to Luxembourg, where it led the singing during the 6pm Sung Mass in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
The repertoire for these performances consisted of a variety of works spanning the period from the 16th to the 20th century, and also included Gregorian music. The 25 compositions included works by Maltese musicians: Benigno Zerafa, Francesco Azopardi, Carmelo Scerri, Joseph Vella and Hugo Agius Muscat. Thus, the choir not only showed off its choral technique but also the abilities of Maltese composers. All of the choir’s singing venues have a longstanding musical tradition: therefore, it meant a lot to the Forty-seven SPCS choristers that, apart from being accepted to sing in these churches, they were also very well received. All the audiences followed the performances closely and showed their approval through prolonged applause, so much so that at the end of every concert, the choir was urged to sing an encore. The experience of singing in such expansive spaces as Trier and Metz cathedrals is surely among the most enriching and unforgettable.
For the St Paul Choral Society, the Heart of Europe Tour is another link in a chain of success obtained abroad, which has included singing in St Paul’s and Westminster Cathedrals in London (2011), Vienna and Innsbruck Cathedrals in Austria (2013), the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris (2015), the Cathedrals of Burgos, León and Santiago de Compostela in Spain (2017), and many other churches. The St Paul Choral Society is now an established ambassador for Malta where sacred music is concerned.
The St Paul Choral Society’s tour was supported by several private individuals and organisations in Malta and Germany.