by Michael Caruso
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, marked the Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 6, with a service of Lessons and Carols. The liturgy drew a congregation that filled the church’s hauntingly beautiful Neo-Norman sanctuary, recalling a tradition dating back to 1880 in England’s Truro Cathedral. Of all the western churches, none both honors and sustains the church’s liturgy/musical traditions more successfully than the Anglican Communion.
Symbolically crossing the Tiber in Rome, parish music director Erik Meyer led St. Martin’s Advent Procession with an English translation of Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina’s Latin Advent Responsory, “I look from afar,” sung by the choir from the back of the church, the singers surrounding its alabaster baptismal fount. The balance between unison chant and choral polyphony was smoothly meshed together to form a seamless whole.
Paul Christiansen’s arrangement of the Southern folk hymn, “O Jesus my Savior,” opens with the men alone and then the women joining them. The harmonies are lowly voiced, and they were sung with a warm resonance that gently enveloped the congregation. Stephen Paulus’ “Even before we call on your name,” sung without organ accompaniment at the right side of the central transept of the church, were performed with faultless blend and balance.
Jonathan Dove’s “I am the day soon to be born” is a tricky number. The choir initially had a bit of trouble establishing solid ensemble, but once it had done so, the singing was strong and expressive. Matt Cann’s “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills” was surprisingly gloomy considering its text and the character of the Advent season, but Paul Manz’ “Peace be to you,” sung in remembrance of the Anglo-Catholic traditions that inspired the founding of the parish, projected newer musical styles over an older language. It was sung with passion. Meyer closed the service with a splendid rendition of Bach’s “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” for solo organ.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, will celebrate its Lessons and Carols Sunday, Dec. 20, at 5 p.m.
The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill will host two Christmas concerts this weekend. Donald Nally will bring The Crossing, the chamber choir he founded 10 years ago, to the church for its annual “The Crossing @ Christmas” concert Friday, Dec. 18, 8 p.m. The following evening, Dec. 19, again at 8 p.m., the combined forces of Piffaro, Tempesta di Mare and Choral Arts Philadelphia will present “Christmas in Germany: the Dresden Vespers of 1619.”
“Traditions matter,” Nally explained, “particularly when the world around us is uncharted, adventuresome, unknown. That’s what makes the tradition of ‘The Crossing @ Christmas’ so special. It’s a true gift to us to sing works that we have loved and longed for. And we are so fortunate to have introduced these works to our friends … We sing all of them in the warm, meditative atmosphere of a candle-lit church within an amazing acoustic.
“To make it a true anniversary holiday, organist Scott Dettra joins us in works by MacMillan, Leighton, Boyle and Dove, and he’s going to introduce some Buxtehude ‘interludes’ between choral works in anticipation of our ‘Seven Responses’ project – our largest to date, premiering June 24 & 25, with contemporary composers’ responses to Buxtehude’s ‘Membra Jesu notri.’ Three of the works were written for us, and the concert begins and ends with Eriks Esenwalds’ ethereal mix of voices and tuned water glasses. And, of course, there’s something new: a brilliant work of Joby Talbot about wishing.”
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