Seraphic Fire serves up a stylish, springy “Messiah”

By Lawrence A. Johnson


Tradition is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior.” By that standard, Seraphic Fire’s performance of Handel’s Messiah just qualifies, since this is only the second year of the perennial Handel favorite presented by Patrick Dupre Quigley’s chamber choir at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

 But it’s clear that even in its sophomore season, this downtown Miami Messiah has found its audience. Once again, the Knight Concert Hall was close to sold-out Friday night and the appreciative, if not entirely punctual, audience of two thousand clearly enjoyed the performance.

Quigley has more reasons to be thankful than many this Christmas season, Last year the Knight Foundation bestowed $250,000 on him to form the new Firebird Chamber Orchestra, which performed jointly with the Seraphic Fire singers for the first time Friday. And just weeks ago, the same foundation awarded $684,750 to Seraphic Fire to create a network of choral youth ensembles in low-income areas in Miami-Dade County.

But Friday night it was the turn of Quigley, his singers and instrumentalists to shine in the spotlight along with the remarkable music of Mr. Handel. As was the case in 2007, the performance offered a streamlined, 75-minute Messiah, varying the selections from last year. Most of the greatest hits were there, though transitions proved jarring at times (vaulting from Rejoice greatly to He was despised), and it’s hard to feel that a Messiah without I know that my Redeemer liveth is really giving us the full Handelian Monty.   

 Quigley’s historically informed Handel style is a known quantity by now with light buoyant rhythms, little vibrato and free decoration by the soloists who step out from the choir to perform their arias. Tempos were well chosen and Quigley’s conducting alert and on target, with only the breakneck accelerando he favors in the Hallelujah chorus questionable. At times, the orchestral playing felt a bit too muted and lacking in sonority, but the vocal soloists provided the necessary spark of spontaneity. 

 As is usual with Quigley and his singers, the preparation and technical precision were impressive, and rarely will one encounter such scrupulous balancing, even articulation and focused intonation. Even in the most challenging tempos, like the fleet pace for The Lord gave the word, the choir emerged with gleaming technical aplomb.  

 While all the soloists distinguished themselves, the men seemed to come off best this year. Tenor Derek Chester set the right mood of simple, natural story-telling with his plaintive Comfort ye my people, followed by Vincent Davies’ vibrant agility in Every valley, and James Bass’s dramatic weight in Thus saith the Lord.

 Countertenor Reginald Mobley provided the most memorable highlight with his sweet-toned, almost conversational rendition of He was despised, all the more affecting for its restraint. Mezzo Kristin Brouwer served up the requisite bright cheer and coloratura flexibility in  Oh, thou that tellest, Misty Bermudez contributed a sensitive How beautiful are the feet, and Graham Fandrei brought welcome theatrical fervor to The trumpet shall sound, which also benefited from terrific obbligato playing by Craig Morris.

 The first joint appearance of Seraphic Fire and the Firebird Chamber Orchestra was mostly accomplished, though the strings of the 17-member ensemble weren’t always as polished or cohesive as their vocal colleagues.

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2 Responses to “Seraphic Fire serves up a stylish, springy “Messiah””

  1. Posted Dec 20, 2008 at 3:09 pm by Gary & Wendy Rugg

    We enjoyed the performance and the ability of Patrick to bring this production together. He is to be commended as are his singers. WOW!

  2. Posted Dec 23, 2008 at 2:02 pm by Ruth Sackner

    The concert was a true musical and heavenly treat. This year was the best yet. We are privileged to have Patrick Quigley, Seraphic Fire and the Firebird in our midst and they deserve our kudos and support. Happy holidays to all!

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Sat Dec 20, 2008
at 1:56 pm