Bach to the future with Firebird’s delightful take on the Brandenburgs

By Lawrence Budmen

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach has offered infinite interpretive possibilities to performing artists. From the spectacular Hollywood sound of Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral transcriptions to Virgil Fox’s highly theatrical organ concerts to computerized synthesizers or period instrument ensembles, Bach’s masterworks remain indestructible, towering cathedrals of the Baroque era.

Patrick Dupre Quigley and the Firebird Chamber Orchestra offered their distinctive take on three of the master’s instrumental scores and a vocal cantata Friday night at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables.

Patrick Dupre Quigley

Patrick Dupre Quigley

Although the historic Gables landmark has provided a wonderful soundspace for the choir, the majestic church’s over-reverberant acoustics are not ideal for orchestral performance. Instrumental lines become blurred, ensemble transparency must be approximated. Quigley and his outstanding group of musicians adjusted to the hall as the concert progressed, surmounting the problematic environment with greater instrumental definition and ensemble precision.

As the opening installment of the orchestra’s “Brandenburg Project,” Quigley led the Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 3 and 5. He embraces the vibrato-less, historically informed approach to these instrumental milestones without rigid adherence to inflexible tempos or characterless solo playing. The Third Brandenburg (for strings) took the first movement to settle in, the harpsichord and cello continuo somewhat overemphatic. Harpsichordist Kola Owolab played a delightfully imaginative improvisation in lieu of an Adagio. The concluding Allegro was appropriately sprightly and imbued with the spirit of the dance, the essence of much of Bach’s music.

Kathryn Mueller

The sacred cantata Ich bin vergnugt mit meinem Glucke (I am content with my good fortune), BWV 84, is a gentle, even joyful acceptance of death, set in radiant tones for soprano soloist, oboe, strings and harpsichord. Bach’s divine flights of melodic inspiration constantly astound the listener, the instrumental component always vital and imaginative (rather than merely accompanimental).

Kathryn Mueller’s light, bright-hued soprano is perfect for Baroque music, and her flexibility and accurate, beautifully executed trills were a joy to hear. The cantata concludes with one of Bach’s noble, moving chorales which Mueller sang with natural, unforced grace. Rick Basehore’s gorgeous obbligato oboe radiated color and drama.

The Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 was played with vigor, spontaneity, and stylish musicianship. Bach’s fascinating dialogue for violin, flute and harpsichord was revitalized by three exceptional players. Owolab’s keyboard mastery took center stage in the lengthy harpsichord cadenza. His precise, fleet-fingered playing revealed anew Bach’s originality and revolutionary approach to the instrument.

Concertmaster Adda Kridler’s incisive energy and lovely tone entranced the ear, and flutist Ebonee Thomas, one of South Florida’s finest freelance players, displayed rounded tonal purity and delicacy as well as rhythmic intensity. The second movement Andantino was assayed with stately charm, never succumbing to the heavy-handedness of many performances. Under Quigley’s knowing direction, the finale sparkled in high-spirited fashion.

Ebonee Thomas

Ebonee Thomas

The Orchestral Suite No. 2 with its prominent solo flute part has been a showpiece for great instrumentalists from Marcel Moyse and William Kincaid to Rampal and Galway. Thomas brought effervescent lightness, lovely ornamentation and musical discernment to an outstanding performance, aided in no small part by Quigley’s enthusiastic direction of the stellar ensemble. The Rondeau danced with the French air of Rameau while the Bouree had wonderful lift and verve. Thomas’ taut reading of the famous Badinerie was supported by bold strokes in the strings, with Quigley adding an appealing touch of modernism to a Baroque classic.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale , and 4 p.m. Sunday at Temple Emanu-El in Miami Beach.; 888-544-FIRE (3473).

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Sat Feb 27, 2010
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