By Michael Caruso
Erik Meyer, Parker Kitterman and the Choir of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, took their musical act on the road Sunday, June 11. Joined by the parish’s rector, the Rev. W. Jarrett Kerbel, they sang Choral Evensong in the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia at 38th & Ludlow Sts. in University City.
Kitterman, music director of Old Christ Episcopal Church, 2nd & Market Sts., will be joining Meyer, St. Martin’s music director, and the choir during their weeklong residency at Bristol Cathedral, England, in mid-August. Most of the time, Kitterman will be accompanying Meyer and the choir at the Cathedral’s organ. The one exception to that rule was manifested Sunday afternoon. Because the choir was singing Kitterman’s own choral setting of the Anglican Evening Service in preparation for its being sung in England, Kitterman conducted while Meyer accompanied on the Philadelphia Cathedral’s ramshackle pipe organ.
Kitterman, who presides over an 18-member choir at Philadelphia’s first Episcopal parish, set the entire Evensong liturgy, including the opening “Preces” and the closing “Responses” as well as the familiar “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” in between. It was wonderful hearing this consistency of expression from start to finish without experiencing the unavoidable “clash” of styles between one composer’s “Preces” & “Responses” and another’s “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis.” In this case, it was all the lovelier, since Kitterman took the tone of the text for his inspiration in determining the character of the music.
His “Magnificat” virtually dances with the youthful Virgin Mary’s high spirits while the “Nunc Dimittis” looks inward as it reflects upon God’s promise to St. Simeon fulfilled with the appearance of the infant Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. The opening “Preces” seems to open the Church’s doors to all the faithful while the “Responses” profess the faith with strength and dignity.
No less fascinating was hearing the Choir of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in the open and resonant expanse of the Episcopal Cathedral, which is probably four times the size of St. Martin’s Church. Yet because Meyer has trained his choristers how to project without pushing the tone into shrillness, the choir sang with supple authority and interpretive integrity in each of Kitterman’s selections as well as in Jennifer Higdon’s admirable arrangement of “Amazing Grace.”
The poem that forms the text of “Amazing Grace” was written in 1779 by the Anglican priest, John Newton. He had previously been the captain of a slave-trading vessel that plied the Atlantic Ocean until a personal religious revelation drove him from the trade to the Church of England’s clergy. Higdon, an alumna and faculty member of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, embellished the simple melody most commonly used with Newton’s lyrics to produce a chromatic contrapuntal setting of surprising power. It was sung with dexterity and intensity.