New year begins with choral and chamber music

by Michael Caruso
Posted 1/26/23

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill marked the completion of the Christian season of Christmastide with a Lessons and Carols service on Jan. 15.

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New year begins with choral and chamber music


St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill marked the completion of the Christian season of Christmastide with a Lessons and Carols service on Jan. 15. The scriptural readings and the anthems and carols that surrounded and enhanced them spanned the ancient feasts of the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea, the Epiphany (the visit of the Magi from the East to see the Christ child), the Flight into Egypt by Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the Marriage in Cana of Galilee, and Christ’s Transfiguration on the high mountain before the apostles Peter, James and John.

Parish music director Andrew Kotylo conducted his Adult Choir and Choristers and guest organist Ken Lovett in a daunting program that got off to a haunting start with the introit “Jesu Dulcis Memoria” sung evocatively from the back of the church. Barry Rose’s arrangement of the Finnish melody “Lord, When You Came on Earth” received a reading that smoothly projected its gentle voices of sweet harmonies.

The delicate dissonances of Anthony Piccolo’s “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree” were sung with textural transparency while Herbert Howell’s “Here is the Little Door” was interpreted with hushed reverence and awe. William Crotchet’s “Lo! Star-Led Chiefs” is a bright little number and it received a stylish rendition.

The tricky dissonances of Jonathan Dove’s “The Three Kings” were sung with effortless precision while John Rutter’s arrangement of “I Wonder as I Wander” glowed with the intimate warmth of the season. Donald Pearson’s “Falan-Tidings” was the evening’s final choral work.

Lovett opened the service with a fine reading of a Buxtehude “Fantasia” and Kotylo bookended it with Messiaen’s splashy “God Among Us.”

Local duo-pianists

Duo-pianists Laura Ward and Jeffrey Brillhart will present a French-repertoire recital Sunday, Jan. 29, at 2 p.m. in the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. Brillhart is the music director at the church and Ward, who lives in Chestnut Hill, is an acclaimed accompanist. No tickets are needed.    

Juilliard String Quartet

Even the Juilliard String Quartet was unable to stop the forces of nature as it opened the second half of the 2022-23 season of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. The legendary ensemble was slated to perform Ravel’s String Quartet, Alberga’s Quartet No. 2 and Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major Sunday afternoon, Jan. 8, in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater.

The recital was intended to be the final performance by first violinist Areta Zhulla before her taking a maternity leave. Her child had other ideas and decided that Friday, Jan. 6 – the Feast of the Epiphany in the Christian calendar – would be a better birthday. And so, Michelle Ross stepped into Zhulla’s chair a little early and played in her place Jan. 8.

Not surprisingly, the program had to be changed. In place of the Ravel and Alberga pieces, the Juilliard played the last of Beethoven’s String Quartets, the Opus 135 in F major. With guest clarinetist Anthony McGill (an alumnus of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and the principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic) still onboard, the Mozart remained in place. 

Like Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major is a late work. Like the even later Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, it was composed specifically for the era’s most acclaimed player of this relatively newly invented instrument, Anton Stadler. Both scores use the deeper-in-range and darker-in-tone clarinet tuned in A major rather than the higher and brighter version tuned in B-flat major.

The result in both works is a mellow and subsequently distinctly autumnal mood. When heard and considered in the light of Mozart's death at the age of 35 within two years of their composition, it’s almost impossible not to note a somber air of unexpected culmination and consummation in both the Quintet and Concerto.

Beethoven, of course, is well known to have taken a decidedly different approach to the music he was composing during his final years. Each score seemed to grow quirkier and quirkier with the writing of each one. Composed in 1826, the year before his death, Beethoven’s final string quartet is a striking example of music so abstractly conceived that it still sounds modern two centuries after it was composed.

The Juilliard Quartet – violinists Michelle Ross & Ronald Copes, violist Molly Carr and cellist Astrid Schween – gave the Beethoven a riveting reading. By never smoothing over its craggy textures, spikey rhythms and daunting dissonances, they delineated its towering beauty and plummeted into its most profound emotions with a quality of spirituality that turned the quartet into a concentrated symphony.

Then, turning on a dime with the help of clarinetist Anthony McGill, they projected the golden glow of Mozart’s operatic lyricism with finesse and focus.

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