by Michael Caruso

Richard Raub.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, hosted the third in its season of “Five Fridays” recitals Feb. 7. The featured artists were the members of the Vera Quartet. They played a program that included Beethoven’s Quartet in C minor, Opus 18, no. 4, and Ravel’s Quartet in F major.

The ensemble is comprised of violinists Rebecca Anderson & Pedro Rodriguez Rodriguez, violist Ines Picado Molares and cellist Justin Goldsmith. Their rendition of the Beethoven, although officially a score from his “early period,” caught the music’s seething emotions that were to characterize the master’s “middle period.”

The Vera opened the first movement with a perfect balance between brooding tumult and Viennese lyricism. Rhythmic ensemble was excellent, as was the blend between the group’s four individual voices into a well integrated whole. The second movement’s sharp fugal writing was cleanly delineated. The edgy drama of the third movement Menuetto was beautifully set off against its sweet Trio, while the closing Allegro-Prestissimo was both furious and playful.

The Vera’s reading of Ravel’s only Quartet sang with the composer’s distinctive melancholy lyricism. The modal harmonies of the first movement were set against its thematic development. The fabled pizzicatos of the second movement danced demonically, the somber passions of the third movement cast a lugubrious spell, and the refined frenzy of the finale was given a rendition of fleet agitation.

AVA’S ‘LA FAVORITE’

Germantown’s Richard Raub will conduct the Academy of Vocal Arts’ fully staged production of Donizetti’s “La Favorite” Feb. 15, 18, 20 & 22. The mounting will be sung to the original French libretto. It was given its premiere at “L’opera de Paris,” the home of French grand opera.

“It was composed near the end of Donizetti’s life, in 1840, eight years before his death,” Raub said, “and he wanted it for Paris. He was tired of the Italian censors and their interference, plus he was paid more than he would have been paid in Italy.”

Raub explained that Donizetti had very little time to work on the opera. It was a sudden commission because of Meyerbeer’s having backed out of a scheduled production. He managed it by pulling material from several sources of previously composed music as well as new music. “Despite all of that,” Raub asserted, “I believe it’s a masterpiece.”

Audiences of the 19th and early 20th centuries thought the same thing. For 70 years, it was performed every season in France and was included among the masterworks of the French repertoire. Then it fell out of favor. The Italian-language version is now much better known.

The opera is set during the wars between the Christian and Muslim forces in Spain. AVA’s mounting will eliminate some of the ballet music and offer a lighter orchestration to accommodate the space limitations of the school’s own Warden Theater, 1920 Spruce St. in center city. “But we get to the heart of the emotions,” Raub assured. “And it’s glorious music that I’ve had to learn from the bottom up. It’s been very exciting for me.” For more information call 215-735-1685 or visit avaopera.org.

VERDI’S ‘REQUIEM MASS’

Opera Philadelphia performed Verdi’s “Manzoni Messa da Requiem” in the Academy of Music Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 to audiences that packed the historic opera house. In my five decades of concert reviewing, I can’t remember a more powerful yet sensitive interpretation of the Italian master’s greatest work.

The “Manzoni Requiem” is, indeed, a Latin-language opera. In using the traditional text of the “Mass for the Dead,” Verdi set those passages of an individual nature for the soloists and those of a communal character for the chorus. Supporting both, he composed his most evocative orchestration. Together they testify to Verdi’s personal belief in the Christian doctrine of Heaven and Hell within the context of his visceral contempt for the political entity of the Church of Rome in 19th century Italy.

Conducting both performances was Corrado Rovaris, Opera Philadelphia’s music director since 2005 and a master of the entire Verdi canon. His interpretation was broadly formed and deeply felt. He elicited tumultuous singing from the Opera Philadelphia Chorus and dazzling playing from its orchestra.

He was no less successful with his four soloists: soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano, tenor Evan LeRoy Johnson and bass In-Sung Sim. Cano and Johnson were particularly outstanding, the former for the luscious timbre of her voice and the latter for the elegance of his phrasing and the perfectly executed trill in the “Hostias” movement.

Opera Philadelphia will return to the Academy of Music April 24 through May 3 for Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Call 215-732-8400 or visit operaphila.org. You can contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.net. To read more of NOTEWORTHY visit chestnuthilllocal.com/Arts/Noteworthy.https://chestnuthilllocal.com/Arts/Noteworthy.

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