Seraphic Fire kicks off summer series with enjoyable gospel program

By Lawrence Budmen

Patrick Dupre Quigley

Whether Patrick Dupre Quigley is leading his remarkable chamber choir Seraphic Fire in Renaissance polyphony, Baroque cantatas, contemporary minimalism or down-home indigenous song, he produces the most ravishing vocal sonorities, marked by scrupulous attention to dynamics and ensemble precision.

For the opening program of the choir’s summer series Wednesday at St. Christopher’s by the Sea in Key Biscayne, Quigley returned to the gospel and bluegrass tradition, his musical version of southern hospitality, with “It is Well With My Soul.” The nearly ninety-minute program featured a cornucopia of favorites from the group’s annual gospel evenings.

The choir entered the sanctuary to the pure a capella tones of soprano Kathryn Mueller singing Down to the River to Pray, the entire group joining in for a testament of faith both reverent and folksy. With Alvaro Bermudez and James Bass on guitar and bass providing delightful bluegrass twang, a female trio and full twelve member chorus offered a swinging rendition of Keep on the Sunny Side, a song popularized by the late June Carter Cash.

A breezy version of the classic I’ll Fly Away preceded a trio of favorites. Sweet Beulah Land was rendered with an enchanting sense of grace, free of exaggerated affectation. Quigley was the vociferous baritone soloist, strong and manly in voice, for Glory Land. The lilting strains of Green Pastures were assayed with relaxed suppleness. In all three pieces, Quigley evoked a beguiling mellow blending of voices and refined harmonies, the essence of superb choral singing.

One of the concert’s most extraordinary offerings was a call-and-response variant of the familiar hymn Amazing Grace. Quigley sang an almost improvisatory version of each line, followed by the choir’s wildly original rhythmic and harmonic twists on the material. Unlike any previous arrangement of the frequently sung and recorded evergreen, this reinvention was both moving and strikingly original. It is Well With My Soul received full throttle treatment, a stirring testament of faith in the face of adversity.

Turning to the music of the African-American church, the multi-talented Quigley exhibited his pianistic skill, accompanying James Bass’ warmly mellow vocalism on the classic spiritual Deep River. Bass’ beautiful, evenly produced bass conveyed a gorgeous, pliant legato line worthy of a Mozart or Verdi aria.

Victory is Mine was sung with the joyous, toe- tapping fervor of a revival meeting. With the choir pulling out all the stops, Quigley offered a touch of stride piano that he must have heard in his native New Orleans. In response to an enthusiastic, standing ovation, Precious Lord was an exhilarating encore with countertenor Reginald Mobley adding some authentic gospel fervor to his vibrant solo.

Repeating Down to the River to Pray as the choir exited the church concluded an enjoyable survey of vernacular religious traditions, perfect musical entertainment for a summer evening. The entire program was a vivid demonstration of the versatility of Seraphic Fire, one of South Florida’s stellar cultural assets.

Seraphic Fire repeats the program 7:30 P.M. Thursday at St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Miami Shores, 7:30 P.M. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables, 8:00 P.M. Saturday at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale and 4:00 P.M. Sunday at Miami Beach Community Church. 305-285-9060,

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Thu Jun 10, 2010
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