If there were a prize for the best-designed, most informative program of any musical event in Maine, the St. Mary Schola would win hands down — and it doesn’t even have any ads.

Fortunately, the music itself, by the choir founded by Bruce Fithian at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Falmouth, is equally fine, well-presented and new to most listeners. The instrumental ensemble, heard alone in the Sonata No. 8 in C by Archangelo Corelli (1653-1713), was in the best form I have heard since the first concert.

This year’s “Nowell Sing We,” Sunday and Monday in Falmouth and Wednesday in the Olin Arts Center at Bates College, explored two themes, the reaction of Mary (and Joseph) to the visit of the Holy Ghost and the Angel Gabriel, and peace on earth.

On the latter topic, an unusual reading from “The Anti-Slavery Enterprise” by Charles Summner (1855) about the power of small beginnings, preceded a setting by Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) of “Ich bin eine rufende Stimme” (“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”)

The program included three other works by Schutz, whose genius has been overshadowed by that of J.S. Bach: an outstanding “Ave Maria” sung by Andrea Graichen and Erin Chenard; a “Jubilate Deo” with a powerful bass rendition by John D. Adams, and a setting of Luther’s “Give our rulers and all lawgivers peace and good government,” by tenors Martin Lescault and Bruce Fithian.

The Luther text was introduced by Emily Dickinson’s poem: “I many times thought Peace had come.” 

The men’s and women’s processionals included three medieval and near-Renaissance carols, plus a delightfully earthy “Muito foi noss’ amigo Gabriel” from the 13th-century “Cantiga de Santa Maria,” with Madeleine Hanna soloist. Sung in the original Portuguese, it begins with “Gabriel was our true friend” and ends with “and not give a fig for the devil.”

Of special interest was a “Viderunt omnes” by Perotin (fl. c. 1200), an organum that, as Fithian points out in the program notes, bears an uncanny resemblance to the music of contemporary composer Philip Glass.

The program concluded with  a reading of Tennyson’s “Ring out, wild bells,” from “In Memoriam,” and a dramatic Psalm 112 (Blessed are those who fear the Lord) by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).

The program was in memory of the Rev. Canon James Dalton-Thompson, whose readings of texts in English, Latin and Middle English can never be excelled. 

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

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