A Sunday afternoon of sacred choral masterpieces

by Michael Caruso
Posted 5/9/24

Two local conductors lead performances of note this month: Donald Meineke, of Chestnut Hill, and Richard Raub, of Germantown.

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A Sunday afternoon of sacred choral masterpieces


Two local conductors lead performances of note this month: Donald Meineke, of Chestnut Hill, and Richard Raub, of Germantown. Meineke will conduct a quartet of professional singers in “One Faith – Many Voices: Hail Full of Grace,” at 4 p.m.,  Sunday, May 12, in St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church. Raub is closing out his musical leadership of the Academy of Vocal Arts’ production of Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” that opened April 25 in Philadelphia and ends May 12 with a performance in Bethlehem. 

 Meineke, who is the director of music at the historic Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, and the artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia, will conduct a program of music drawn from both the western and eastern traditions of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The two ancient branches of the church split in 1054 over both doctrinal and cultural differences. 

 The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of several Eastern Rite churches that are in communion with the pope but retain their Orthodox traditions, most notably an all-male clergy that includes married men. In keeping with that position, the musical program will include both western and eastern music honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary and all mothers on Mother’s Day. Tickets are $15 at the door.

 ‘Barber of Seville’

 AVA’s production of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” wraps up the school’s season of fully staged presentations of standard repertoire operas. The all-scholarship school has been preparing young vocalists from all over the world for professional careers in music since 1934.

 During an April 27 performance, Raub, in collaboration with stage director Jeffrey Buchman, commanded his young singers and the AVA Opera Orchestra in a rousing performance heard in a packed Warden Theater.

 In a last-minute change of plans, baritone Kevin Godinez took over the title role after having sung it only two days before. Nonetheless, his voice sounded as fresh as springtime – his control over the full gamut of his range, his use of vibrato and dynamics, his phrasing and his diction were flawless. And his portrayal of the role of a servant more in charge of his supposed superiors in the aristocracy than they over him was both profound and comic.

 Tenor Matthew Goodheart gave a convincing reading of the dashing and entitled Count Almaviva, soprano Loella Grahn was a feisty Rosina, bass Nan Wang was a delight as the pompous Dr. Bartolo, and bass Cumhur Gorgun rounded out the splendid cast as an appropriately slimy Don Basilio.

 For more information about the remainder of AVA’s season call 215-735-1685 or visit

 Sacred choral concerts

 I had the opportunity to take in two concerts of sacred choral music Sunday afternoon, April 28. First on the list at 2 p.m. was principal guest conductor Nathalie Stutzmann leading the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir and four vocal soloists in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem Mass,” K 626. This was followed at 5 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill with parish director of music Andrew Kotylo leading the Adult Choir in Choral Evensong.

 The purposes of the two liturgies are profoundly different. Anglican Choral Evensong is meant to bring to a close a day hopefully well-lived while the Roman Requiem Mass is intended to function as the conduit between our transient life on earth and heaven’s life eternal. The former most often offers music of contemplative beauty; the latter proffers a sometimes-terrifying premonition of what happens if a person’s faith is not intact at the time of their death.

 Kotylo led his forces with strength and sensitivity in Henry Smart’s overly Victorian “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis" from his “Evening Service in B-flat” and Cecilia McDowall’s thrilling “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.”

 Nathalie Stutzmann met the monumental challenge of dealing with the undeniable unevenness of Mozart’s “Requiem Mass,” which was completed after the composer’s death by his student Süssmayr. In spite of its clumsy orchestration, Stutzmann elicited playing from the Philadelphians that glowed with exquisite transparency of texture and timbre. More important, she inspired the massive Philadelphia Symphonic Choir to sing with the lyrical phrasing and dynamic range of a cast of vocalists for an opera, and placed the individual vocal numbers sung by her soloists within the context of a liturgy intended to shepherd the faithful departed from this world into the next. Soprano Erin Morley, contralto Sara Mingardo, tenor Kenneth Tarver and bass Harold Wilson sang with driving passion and consummate artistry.

 It’s worth noting that, once again, this Sunday afternoon matinee was packed to the rafters of Verizon Hall, soon to be renamed “Marian Anderson Hall.”

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