Choral Arts rings in next year with Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers’

by Michael Caruso
Posted 12/28/23

Choral Arts Philadelphia will welcome the new year with a rare local performance of one of the most seminal sacred works in their repertoire. 

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Choral Arts rings in next year with Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers’


Choral Arts Philadelphia will welcome the new year with a rare local performance of one of the most seminal sacred choral works in their repertoire. 

Chestnut Hill conductor Donald Meineke, the ensemble’s artistic director, will lead the choir and the Bach Collegium in a rendering of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Vespro della Beata Vergine” of 1610, Sunday, Dec. 31, at 5 p.m. at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Savior, 38th and Ludlow Streets in West Philadelphia.

Monteverdi played an integral role in the rounding off of the musical style of the High Renaissance and the opening up of the Baroque era during the turn of the 16th century into the 17th. His music simplified the highly contrapuntal style of Palestrina and Victoria and led the way to the more concise fashion of Corelli and Vivaldi – and eventually Bach and Handel.

“In 1610, Monteverdi published a monumental collection of music, dedicated to Pope Paul V, in honor of the Virgin Mary,” Meineke explained. “It consisted of a full setting of the Mass as well as the evening office of Vespers. While the Mass consisted of the usual five movements of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei), the Vespers portions consisted of 13 movements.

 “It’s an ambitious collection of music,” he continued, “in both the old and emerging new style of the time and represents some of Monteverdi’s most elaborate and mature compositional writing. Utilizing the full vocal and instrumental forces of 17th century Venice, the sonority is tremendous – as cornettos, sackbuts, strings, theorbos, organ and harpsichord, and choral writing for up to ten separate vocal lines all resound in brilliant harmony. What better way to say goodbye to 2023 and ring in 2024?”

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Lessons and Carols

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, marked the third Sunday of Advent with a candlelight service of “Nine Lessons and Carols” on Sunday, Dec, 17. The service drew a congregation that filled every pew in the church.

With St. Paul’s rector, the Rev. Eric Hungerford officiating, director of music Andrew Kotylo offered the finest program of Advent music I’ve heard in all my years of writing about the service since 1986. Both the choice of repertoire and the renditions it received were not only better than I’ve ever heard before at St. Paul’s but superior to any I’ve encountered anywhere short of the King’s College Chapel at Cambridge University in England.

Leaning in the direction of more modern selections, Kotylo chose music that perfectly supported the nine readings from the Old and New Testament foretelling and celebrating the arrival of the promised Messiah. Carols were chosen with equal care so that all the music that was sung on Sunday evening was integrated into the liturgy.

With a choir of 40-plus voices, it’s not difficult to produce a large body of sound. It is difficult, however, to proffer loud singing that retains its warmth of tone. It’s even more difficult, still, to produce soft singing that never loses its focus. Kotylo achieved this amazing feat not just occasionally but consistently from start to finish.

 St. Paul’s will offer “Lessons and Carols for the Feast of the Epiphany” Sunday, Jan. 14, at 5 p.m., and “Choral Evensong for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul” Sunday, Jan. 28, at 5 p.m.

Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’

Although the “Gloria” movement of the Ordinary of the Latin Mass is not sung during Advent, it was a pleasure hearing Antonio Vivaldi’s version of the text performed at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater on Sunday, Dec. 17. Evan Williams conducted the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, a chorus assembled by Chestnut Hiller Donald Meineke, and countertenor soloist Reginald Mobley for a sadly small audience.

While better known for his instrumental concerti, Vivaldi was an adept writer for choral forces and individual soloists. And Mobley was an adept interpreter of his music. He sang with tonal clarity, security of projection, eloquence of phrasing, crystal-clear diction, and emotional conviction.

Lyric Fest

Lyric Fest, the brainchild of Chestnut Hill pianist Laura Ward and East Falls mezzo-soprano Suzanne DuPlantis, presented “Any of Those Decembers” Saturday, Dec. 16, in Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. Fielding an ensemble of vocal quartet, string quartet, flute and piano, the program featured the eight-movement title piece with music by Benjamin Perry-Wenzelberg to poetry by Jeanne Minahan.

The concert drew several hundred music lovers who heard excellent performances of a compelling score set to inspiring texts. Although the main sanctuary of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church seats 1,100 and is perhaps the most stunning large church in Greater Philadelphia, looking like one of England’s Anglican cathedrals, its acoustics are so fine that the playing and singing of the ten musicians filled its warm and welcoming Neo-Norman space.

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