by Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, celebrated the Third Sunday of Advent with a service of Lessons & Carols Sunday afternoon, Dec. 15. A congregation of upwards of 500 people heard parish music Andrew Kotylo lead the combined choir of adults and children and organist Emily Amos in traditional carols and choral music by Robert Lehman, Boris Ord, Otto Goldschmidt, John Abdenour, Hugh Bancroft arranged by Craig Phillips, Benjamin Britten, Carl Rutti, Bob Chilcott and Andrew Carter.

Lehman’s “Matin Reponsory” set a mood of breathless anticipation as the world lay in darkness awaiting the birth of the promised Messiah. The sopranos were particularly impressive, projecting high notes that were perfectly in tune and focused in tone.

Blend, balance, pitch, diction and dynamics were splendidly deployed in Ord’s “Adam Lay Ybounden.” The romantic intimacy of Goldschmidt’s “A Tender Shoot” was beautifully delineated. The choir projected the commanding canons of Abdenour’s “People, Look East,” with Amos’ accompaniment at the organ especially efficacious. Once again, the sopranos offered excellent singing in Phillips’ arrangement of Bancroft’s “There’s a Voice in the Wilderness Crying.”

Britten’s “A Hymn to the Virgin” is one of the stellar masterpieces of 20th century sacred choral music, and Kotylo led it with haunting intensity and compelling beauty. Equally well performed was Rutti’s “A Patre Unigenitus.” The clouds of harmonies that characterize Chilcott’s “The Shepherd’s Carol” were sung with a warming hush, and Carter’s “Hodie Christus natus est” brought the holiday service to a delightfully rhythmic close.

Kotylo and his merry band of choristers will celebrate the Epiphany with a service of Lessons & Carols Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, 5 p.m.


Choral Arts Philadelphia will perform “Christmas Vespers from Dresden: Heinrich Schutz’s Christmas Historia,” a dramatic recreation of a Christmas Day Vespers service as it may have occurred in the Court Chapel of the German city of Dresden in 1660. The concert is set for Tuesday, Dec. 31, 4 p.m., in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square.

The concert will be conducted by Choral Arts’ artistic director, Matthew Glandorf. The choir will be joined in performance by the Philadelphia Bach Collegium and members of Piffaro, Philadelphia’s Renaissance Band. Piffaro recently performed its own holiday concert in Chestnut Hill at the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy due to the breakdown of the heating system at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, the band’s regular local venue.

Speaking about the concert, Glandorf told me, “I am personally very excited about this program, as it is the first time in a long time that Choral Arts and Piffaro have collaborated on a project.

“We rarely get to hear the music of this time period, middle 17th century, because it is a time in music when instrumental ensembles were still in transition from the late Renaissance instruments to the type of orchestra that becomes established in the High Baroque. Therefore, the strings from the Bach Collegium are mixed with the piquant sounds of recorders, sackbuts, cornetti and dulcians. A highly colorful band, indeed!

“It has been a long time since we have done what is referred to as a ‘liturgical reconstruction,’ meaning that the concert is shaped in the order of ‘Christmas Vespers’ as it may have been celebrated in the composer’s lifetime. What this enables us to do is create the context for these various works, to hear them alongside chant, chorales, interludes, etc., so that we as modern listeners can be put back in time.

“Also of historical significance is the ‘Christmas Historia,’ the centerpiece of the program. It was probably first performed in or around 1660, after the end of the devastating Thirty Years War, and Heinrich Schutz would have led a full complement of about 50 singers and players at his disposal, signaling an era of peace and prosperity.”

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