by Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, will host the Schola Cantorum of Oxford Sunday, Sept. 21, 5 p.m. The concert is free and open to the general public.

This intercollegiate choir from Oxford, England, has a long-held reputation as one of the oldest and finest chamber choirs in the United Kingdom. Its current music director is James Burton, a graduate of both Cambridge University and Peabody Conservatory of Music of John Hopkins University in Baltimore (my alma mater).

The choir is comprised of approximately 30 singers, most of whom are students at Oxford University. They regularly record as well as tour all across the globe. Their concert in Chestnut Hill is nestled in between performances at Trinity Episcopal Church in New York City and Cornell, Princeton and Yale Universities.

The program will include motets from the English Renaissance as well as scores written by contemporary composers. The concert will feature the world premiere performances of “O Radix Jesse” by Roderick Williams as well as the American premiere of “Te lucis ante terminum” by the choir’s own conductor, James Burton. It was composed to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War I in August of 1914.

“We at St. Paul’s Church,” explained parish music director Zachary Hemenway, “feel lucky to have secured a Philadelphia performance by this choir through connections with Oxford University and choir alumni living locally. I hope that many young singers attend this concert to be inspired by the heights to which an excellent college choral program can rise.”

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The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia opened its 50th anniversary season Sunday, Sept. 14, with a concert in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. Music director Dirk Brosse led the ensemble in the Prelude to Act III of Verdi’s opera, “La Traviata,” Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor with Curtis Institute of Music alumna Di Wu, and Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony No. 6 in F major. And welcoming the audience at the start of the concert was Chestnut Hill resident Janelle McCoy, the newly named executive director of the Chamber Orchestra.

The roster of scores stands in testimony to the distance in repertoire the ensemble has traveled since Marc Mostovoy founded it 50 years ago as the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia. At the very forefront of the local “Baroque Revival,” the Concerto Soloists focused almost exclusively on the forgotten masterpieces of the Baroque era that stretched from approximately 1600 to 1750.

Going beyond the still-performed masterpieces of the mighty trio of Baroque composers – Bach, Handel and Vivaldi – Mostovoy uncovered and programmed several delightful concertos, offering local audiences a sound bite of what came before the standard symphonic canon beginning with the music of Haydn and Mozart. He also established the Concerto Soloists’ repertoire as one totally distinct from that of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Nowadays, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia (the name was changed when the Concerto Soloists took up residence in the Kimmel Center in 2001) can often be heard playing music in Perelman Theater that the Philadelphia Orchestra is performing in Verizon Hall just across Commonwealth Plaza in the Kimmel. The performances all three scores received Sunday were among the finest I’ve ever heard from the ensemble during nearly 40 years of reviewing their concerts.

Brosse and the Chamber Orchestra offered a splendid interpretation of Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony. By employing a smaller string complement than that usually used by a full symphony orchestra, Brosse opened up the instrumental texture so bracingly that Beethoven’s supreme mastery of Bach-like counterpoint was clearly manifested for one and all to hear within the supportive acoustics of Perelman Theater.