by Michael Caruso

Alan Harler will bring the Mendelssohn Club to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, for its annual performance of the Christmas concert “A Feast of Carols” Saturday, Dec. 13, 5 p.m. The 130-member choir has been performing its Christmas concert at St. Paul’s Church since 1988, and Michael Stairs has been the organist throughout all the years since then. Harler will be retiring as the choir’s music director after 27 years at the helm, so this could very well be the final opportunity for local music lovers to hear this revered maestro conduct the chorus he has lovingly guided for nearly three decades.

Harler explained his choice of program this time around. “Unlike my usual ‘thematic’ Feast of Carols, I am taking a different and quite selfish approach here. I’ve constructed a program around my favorite repertoire from 20-plus Christmas programs that I have led at St. Paul’s Church.

“This year’s program includes sacred music from the Russian Orthodox tradition. The wonderful sonority of these unaccompanied hymns is perfect for St. Paul’s warm acoustics, something I discovered when I programmed Rachmaninoff’s ‘Bogoroditse Devo’ in that first Christmas concert, and I will reprise it in this one. And I couldn’t resist opening with Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Slava,’ which isn’t really a Christmas carol, although it does have a Yuletide connection. It’s great fun because it brings together the chorus, organ and brass — a perfect opener for a concert that ends very quietly and reverentially.

“The concert includes Daniel Pinkham’s iconic ‘Christmas Cantata.’ I also couldn’t resist asking Mendelssohn’s Club composer-in-residence Donald St. Pierre for one more piece, and he responded with an arrangement of the Medieval carol, ‘Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.’ We’re including two wonderful American Christmas songs: Charles Ives’ unison ‘A Christmas Carol’ (which was also programmed on that first Christmas concert) and Don St. Pierre’s arrangement of Peggy Lee’s charming ‘Christmas Lullaby.’ And, of course, we’ll feature a number of favorite carols, many in David Willcocks’ marvelous arrangements to sing with the audience.”

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Chestnut Hill resident Cristian Macelaru, conductor-in-residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra, will lead the ensemble in a Christmas Family Concert on Saturday, Dec. 13, 11:30 a.m., in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. Dancers and actors will join forces with the orchestra to perform favorite holiday selections from “The Nutcracker” ballet and traditional stories such as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” There will be sing-alongs and a visit from Santa Claus.

This past weekend, Dec. 4 and 6, the orchestra’s music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin led the Philadelphians in a program that turned the traditional overture-concerto-symphony format upside down. It was Brahms’ Third Symphony that opened the concert Saturday evening, with Haydn’s “Cello Concerto in C major” following intermission and the suite from Strauss’ opera, “Der Rosenkavalier,” bringing the performance to a close.

Looking at the roster of pieces on paper might have caused one to assume that the Haydn piece was the evening’s lightweight offering, yet nothing could have been further from the truth. With soloist Jean-Guihen-Queyras at the fore, the rendition the concerto received was stupendous. He elicited a focused yet resonant tone from his Gioffredo Cappa 1696 cello to balance an understanding of 18th century period performance practices with the not-altogether supportive acoustics of Verizon Hall and the not-altogether sensitive support of the orchestra. Of course, he had the incalculable help of Haydn, the creator and supreme master of the classical style, but it was Queyras’ unswerving commitment to projecting both the style and substance of this peerless score that made the performance unforgettable.

Nezet-Seguin chose to take so exclusively “classical” rather than an equally “romantic” approach to Brahms’ Third Symphony that the music was robbed virtually entirely of its lieder-like lyricism and roseate tonal glow. Instead of an unending flow of melody heard above masterful counterpoint, one heard the academic working-out of dry development. And this from an ensemble whose Brahms under the baton of the legendary Eugene Ormandy, its musical director from 1936 until 1980, was the sonic envy of orchestras the world over.