Seraphic Fire presents intimate vocal rarities from the court of the Sun King

By Alan Becker

"Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre" by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701.

Some fifteen miles outside Paris lies Versailles, the magnificent palace of Louis XIV.  Called the Sun King because of his supposed likeness to Apollo, god of peace and the arts, Louis was a strong and beloved leader. He was also a devout patron of the arts, and France flourished during his lengthy reign. The splendor of Versailles still stands, as does the rich musical legacy from the “Court of the Sun King.”

Thursday’s Seraphic Fire concert sought to return us to eighteenth-century France and some of the foremost composers of the era. If St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Miami Shores couldn’t quite stand in for Versailles, it still was an inspiring venue, with excellent acoustics in which to present music by Francois Couperin and Louis-Nicolas Clerambault.

Unlike most Seraphic Fire concerts, this one featured just two soloists, with artistic director Patrick Dupre Quigley providing accompaniment by means of a chamber organ. Although there was a stool present, Quigley chose to stand while playing–a feat he could not have accomplished had the selections been more complex.

Clerambault’s Motets (Pour le Roy, Pour la Sainte Vierge, Pour le Jour de Noel, and Pour le Mardy de la Quinquagezime) are religious in nature and celebrate various devotional subjects from the Virgin Mary to Christmas. All featured sopranos Rebecca Duren and Kathryn Mueller in duet. The two women blended well and their pure, vibrato-free delivery, and skillful embellishments provided just the right chaste sound this music requires.

Kathryn Mueller

Couperin was primarily known for his keyboard compositions, but write several vocal works as well. This program featured his three sacred Lecon de Tenebres dating from 1714. The first, introduces the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet, and intones letters of the Hebrew alphabet such as Aleph, Beth, and Gimel. Kathryn Mueller provided the highly decorated vocal line that included some well executed trills and remarkably steady intonation.

Rebecca Duren

Rebecca Duren was no less remarkable in her singing of Couperin’s second Tenebre, its continuance of the Hebrew alphabet and its references to the daughter of Zion and the old city of Jerusalem. The beauty of her singing was well matched to the text, and her handling of the ornate vocal requirements was equally skillful. If the music lacks sustainable harmonic interest for modern ears, it is reflective of French Baroque vocalism in general, and, for many, could be a taste worth acquiring.

For the third and last Tenebre, both sopranos are joined once again in a plea that the ancient city of Jerusalem return once again to God. The beauty of the writing and rich polyphony is undeniable, as the voices intertwine within a labyrinth of sublime consonance.

While this music is infrequently performed, Quigley’s program was characteristically well chosen and energetically presented, giving Seraphic Fire’s audiences the chance to hear yet another worthwhile unexplored area of the vocal repertory.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday at the First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables, 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale, and 4 p.m. Sunday at Miami Beach Community Church.; 305-285-9060.

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Fri Jul 16, 2010
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