‘The Last Seven Words of Christ’ (Les Sept paroles du Christ,) written by French composer Theodore Dubois was given a very moving performance on Sunday 20 March 2022 at Xagħra Basilica . The work is set for solo soprano, tenor and baritone, choir and orchestra. This is the composer’s best known work and continues to feature regularly in choral concerts worldwide.
The work is a free treatment of the texts, dispensing with a definite assignment of the soloists’ roles – Hilda Grima (soprano), Stanley Joe Portelli (tenor) and Louis Cassar (baritone). The text is gleaned from the four gospels and was sung in the Latin version. Francesco Pio Attard and Dr Mary Newman as narrators of the text in Maltese and English respectively also added to the sober drama of these last moments of Christ on the Cross.
One of the chief merits of this Dubois work is its satisfying structure. Each of the utterances of Christ on the cross prefaces and concludes a movement, enfolding a passage of text which either extends Christ’s words or provides narrative like the riotous choral opening “Reus est mortis, tolle!” that follows the soprano’s plaintive solo – O Vos Omnes sung exquistely by Hilda Grima. The second word features the tenor and baritone solos against which the solid four-part texture unfolds in a seamless canvas. There are moments of extreme violence (“Qui destruis templum Dei, si tu es Christus…descende nunc de cruce”) and a particularly savage outburst as darkness descends “velum templi scissum est”. Each of these is capably reflected in the music, which includes periodic unaccompanied passages — for example, in a highly atmospheric moment for the men alone.
Dubois contrasts such outburts with moving words from the Stabat Mater (inserted at “Mulier, ecce filius tuus” ). The composer transmits the emotional pain, with a highly plangent melody for soprano and tenor. One of the composer’s best conceits is his use of repetition, especially for the choir that effectively captures the dynamic contrasts and periodic expressive modulations through words or whole phrases, so that each movement dwells on and underlines the particular thought behind it. The fourth word is scored for baritone solo and was sung with great expression by baritone Louis Cassar. Of distinctive moving beauty is the final choral meditation “Adoramus te, Christe” that brings the work to a hushed atmospheric close!
The objective of this concert was to develop the artistic prowess of local artists and Chorus Urbanus’ choral stamina, apart from providing increased awareness of the high profile character of advanced choral works. And definitely we have reached this objective, notwithstanding the health protocols restrictions… but we are definitely resilient and so happy to return to live performances.
This concert was sponsored by the Cultural Directorate – Ministry for Gozo, the Xagħra Local Council and CVC Media.
Photos of the event will be uploaded soon.