Feel the Magic of Classical Harp featuring Harpist Jacob Portelli was a truly mesmerising evening held at Manresa Chapel, within the outskirts of Victoria. This offering left the audience speechless through the magical aura surrounding Portelli’s playing.
Jacob Portelli opened the program by telling the audience that they would be hearing a program that was designed to give the audience a run through the ages since the development of the pedal harp. The harp is an instrument with its own character, construction, idiomatic aspects, and has a heritage which is much older than the piano, harpsichord and even the organ. The typical modern concert harp, with its 47 strings, seven pitch adjusting double-action pedals, and six-and-a half octave range, has been increasingly in vogue since the early 19th century, when double-action pedal systems were first patented. And this was exactly what this particular concert proposed within such an elegant and mystic surroundings.
Dussek’s Sonata in E flat major was the first piece on the programme. What struck the audience most about Jacob Portelli’s ’s performance of this piece was the absolute evenness of sound between his hands, and fingers, creating an extremely refined sound on the Lyon and Healy Style 26 harp he used for this performance.
Throughout the performance the harpist strategically muffled notes in low passages to clear the way for the melody and inner lines to speak more clearly. The attention to detail was simply stunning.
Second on the program was Spohr’s Fantasia in C minor – display piece where Portelli’s fingers danced and raced across the strings with seemingly impossible speed but yet with great clarity. At the end of the piece, the audience’s applause was a tangible proof of appreciation for the performance of this virtuosic piece that was marked by intense lyricism only interrupted by sudden dynamic contrasts strategically designed to give a wholesome structure to the work.
Next on the programme were two fantastic pieces by Hasselmanns – Guitarre and Gitana where fiery harmonic and melodic elaborations featured prominently and were so deftly performed with bravura. Both pieces take their inspiration from the Spanish local colour. The first piece takes it inspiration from the guitar, while the second is intimately linked with flamenco. The harpist then announced the next piece Nino Rota’s Sarabande and Toccata. Each audience member seemed to lean closer in their chairs as this opus glittered in the hands of the artist. Here the playing was totally musical, and this came across as seemingly effortless.
For the last piece of the recital Jacob Portelli moved to a very daunting transcription of Ma Vlast (Die Moldau) by Smetana. In an amazing feat of synchronisation between fingers and feet, one could not help but noticing how Portelli’s feet flew across the pedals in this work, often making use of double movement (flat-natural-sharp in one motion) and requiring both feet to be flexible about the side on which they worked. The evocation of gentle trickling at the mighty river’s source was very beautifully handled before arriving at the work’s great tune. Throughout the piece effective use of contrast was handled in a masterly fashion with a suitably virtuosic finish to round off this work. The end of this transcribed work was greeted with an enormous applause and a well-deserved standing ovation.
And then came the encore…
The audience’s appreciation was reciprocated by the performer who smilingly introduced Pierne’s Impromptu Caprice. It was in this moment that it became immediately clear that the performance that the audience was witnessing was much more than just a harp recital, and that the performer, Jacob Portelli, was much much more than simply a seasoned harpist. The music seems to flow through him organically as if each piece of the performed music is a piece of his soul that transmits joyful expression backed by virtuosic playing.
This first event from the Feel the Magic programme for 2023 held in the intimate surroundings of Manresa Chapel, Victoria, Gozo with its perfect acoustics was a really good choice for such an eclectic event that heralds more high-profile offerings. Feel the Magic 2022-24 series is generously sponsored by Arts Council Malta and the Ministry for Gozo (Gozo Cultural Support Programme).
Our thanks also go to the Jesuit Fathers at Manresa, Flowers by George and Beam Lighting for the magnificent set-up.
Our next event…
Feel the Magic of Opera Favourites will take place at Teatru Astra on Friday 12 May, 2023, with the participation of top international artists: soprano Claudia Sasso (Italy) and tenor Leonardo Capalbo (USA) together with Chorus Urbanus and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Galea.