by Michael Caruso
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, will mark the Feast of the Epiphany with a service of Lessons and Carols Sunday, Jan. 12, 5 p.m. The liturgy marks the coming of the wise men from the East to visit the Infant Jesus upon his birth in Bethlehem.
Parish music director Andrew Kotylo will lead the church’s choir in Francis Poulenc’s “O Magnum Mysterium,” J.S. Bach’s “O Jesulein Suss,” Jacob Handl’s “O Omnes de Saba Venient,” Felix Mendelssohn’s “There shall a star from Jacob,” Elizabeth Poston’s “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree,” John Rutter’s “I wonder as a wander,” and Donald Pearson’s “Falan Tidings.” The service will open with Jean Langlais’ “La Nativite” as an organ prelude and close with Olivier Messiaen’s “Dieu parmi nous” as its organ postlude.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Matthew Glandorf conducted Choral Arts Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Bach Collegium and Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, in a musical farewell to the year 2019 and an auspicious look into the New Year, 2020. The concert took place Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 31, in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, and drew an audience of about 800 music lovers who filled the church’s lower level.
Glandorf, Choral Arts’ artistic director since 2004, explained that the New Year’s Eve concert was a “reconstruction” of a Vespers service as it might have been celebrated in the German city of Dresden in 1660. The centerpiece of the concert was Heinrich Schutz’s “Christmas Historia,” which Glandorf enhanced with additional scores composed by Schutz, as well as by noted contemporaries such as Michael Praetorius. The disastrous Thirty Years War had just been brought to a conclusion with the Peace of Augsburg. The Vespers that year was most likely as much a civic celebration as it was a religious observation.
Schutz used the nativity narratives found in the Gospels of Saints Matthew and Luke in the New Testament for the text of his “Christmas Historia.” He cast a high tenor to sing the words of the two Evangelists, separated several parts of the story for soprano, alto and bass solos, and gave the chorus the role of group commentator. It’s a formula that worked so well in this and other contemporary examples that it became the norm in subsequent centuries, perhaps most famously in the oratorios of Bach and Handel.
Schutz’ setting achieves its powerful impact not so much through might but through precision. His settings of the German-language translations of the scriptural texts are sonically concise and interpretively telling. The results of his musical studies in “La Serenissima” (“The Most Serene Republic of Venice,” as it was known from 697 through 1797) are on splendid display here. His vocal and choral writing is idiomatic, and his orchestral efforts are colorful and evocative.
Glandorf employed a sensitive yet dramatic hand over the unfolding of Schutz’ musical narrative Tuesday afternoon. He set tempos that enabled the music to flow without a sense of hurry, but he never lost the seminal feeling that here was a story worth telling. He elicited excellent singing from his soloists and choir by maintaining nuanced balances and textures supported by superb playing from both the Bach Collegium and Piffaro.
The latter is well known to local music lovers from their season of concerts given at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The best of the soloists was tenor Michael Jones as the Evangelist. His is not a sweet-timbre voice but, rather, one of dramatic expressivity that caught the quality of immediacy with which Schutz invested the music of the Evangelist.
Equally beautiful renditions were given the program’s final two works, “O Bone Jesu” (O Sweet Jesus) and “Magnificat” (My soul doth magnify the Lord). Their Latin texts show that during the 17th century, Germany’s Lutheran Church had not yet completely abandoned the official language of the Roman Catholic Church despite Martin Luther’s Reformation, beginning in 1517. Schutz’ settings are masterful, and Glandorf led stunning interpretations.