by Michael Caruso

The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, celebrated the Advent season with a Choral Evensong Sunday, Dec. 7. Following the traditional Anglican liturgy of Lessons and Carols first established in 1880, St. Martin’s Church interspersed scriptural readings of the season preparing for Christmas with music drawn from the broadest possible range of the sacred choral repertoire. The choice of music also took notice of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was celebrated the following day.

Among the most interesting works performed were English language adaptations of Latin Advent antiphons composed by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the supreme Roman master of the 16th century High Renaissance. Although Palestrina’s music peerlessly sets the Latin texts that were its original inspiration, the traditional English translations used by music director Erik Meyer proved without question that English can be every bit as majestic a liturgical language as Latin if the English being used is of equal poetic quality.

The afternoon’s most arresting score was Jonathan Dove’s anthem, “I am the day soon to be born.” Voiced in a highly chromatic yet eminently accessible tonality, its layers of counterpoint and reprises of melodic modules provided the perfect musical setting for its mystical text.

From start to finish, St. Martin’s choir under Meyer’s direction sang beautifully as it moved from the back of the church to the High Altar at the very front. Diction and ensemble were especially noteworthy, as was the breadth of dynamic variety. And Meyer’s own renditions at the organ of Samuel Scheidt’s “Magnificat” and Dan Locklear’s “Jubilo” to open and then close the liturgy were splendidly played.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, will celebrate its service of Lessons and Carols 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21. As no local Roman Catholic parish — or even the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, for that matter — is offering an Advent Choral Vespers, St. Paul’s service will be the last chance for local lovers of choral music to enjoy the splendid repertoire of the season heard within the context of a traditional liturgy before Christmas Eve and Day.


“The Crossing @ Christmas,” the choir’s annual holiday concert, is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The candlelit setting of peace and repose weaves contemporary motets around the various movements of Joanne Metcalf’s “Il nome del bel fiore,” a florid invocation of the “Mystic Rose” of Dante’s “Paradiso.” The contemplative atmosphere will be enhanced by Topivo Tulev’s “And then in silence there with me be only you,” the lush harmonies of Will Todd and Howard Helvey and several area premieres, including George Brown’s “Entrai, pastores, entrai,” soon to be released on a new recording by Donald Nally and The Crossing on the Innova label.

Speaking about the concert, Nally said, “We love that our little alternative to the more traditional program of holiday classics in Philadelphia has become a classic itself with an audience that is eager to hear what composers today are saying in music about the Nativity, while taking a break from the craziness we now call “the holidays.”

The concert will be the first to be sponsored by the Jeffrey Dinsmore Memorial Fund @ The Crossing. Dinsmore, a founding member of the choir, recently passed away while the ensemble was preparing for a concert in Los Angeles.

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Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will present “Mediterranean Holiday” 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

“The locus of the program is Naples,” explained Robert Wiemken, co-director of the ensemble, “the place where the conjunction of Spanish and Italian cultures was strongest throughout the 15th through early 17th centuries. Our entire season has a Spanish and Italian focus, so this concert fits nicely into the year’s picture. Some of the main composers in Naples that have provided music for the program include the Spanish Diego Ortiz, the Flemish Giovanni Maria Macque, Giovanni Maria Trabaci and Carlo Gesualdo.

“The program highlights two special pieces/tunes that played a prominent role at the time and that influenced later composers,” Wiemken continued. “One is the Neapolitan bagpiper’s carol; you’ll recognize it from Handel’s use of it in ‘Messiah.’ The other is known as the Sicilian Mariner’s Hymn, and it carries the text ‘O Sanctissima, o piisima,’ a hymn to the Virgin Mary that was later given a new text turning it into a Christmas carol.”

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