Seraphic Fire members take a nostalgic journey

By David Fleshler

The singers of Seraphic Fire set aside their scores of Bach, Handel and Monteverdi and returned to the music of their childhood Thursday for a more personal concert of gospel, Broadway and American pop music.

As artistic director Patrick Dupré Quigley told the audience at St. Christopher’s by the Sea Church in Key Biscayne, the members of the choir learned to sing in churches, from the radio and on the high school stage, and it was to these songs that they returned for this program entitled “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

In some of these works, the choir’s characteristic virtues–its tonal purity and immaculate technique–seemed almost like vices, as compositions such as the African-American spiritual Steal Away came off as technically perfect but dry and passionless. A real church choir may not have delivered as technically polished a performance, but it would have sounded more genuine.

But in other works, the singers’ clear love of this music came through, investing a fervor and authenticity to their performances of works such as From a Distance, You’ll Never Walk Alone and Victory in Jesus.

The mezzo-soprano Lexa Ferrill brought a rich, round voice to Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins. Although she sounded considerably more operatic than Julie Andrews as she sang “Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag,” her expressive phrasing and the sheer tonal beauty of her voice made the performance a success.

Stefan Reed’s intense, focused, lyric tenor was spotlighted in the gospel hymn Because He lives. Reed and the choir brought the work to a magnificent crescendo, with free and natural phrasing that gave the performance real emotional power. Another highlight were two uptempo, barbershop quartet versions of gospel hymns, anchored by the firm and agile bass-baritone of the aptly named James Bass.

Among all the singers, the tenor Darrin Stafford sounded most natural and unaffected in this populist repertoire. He delivered the hymn His Eye is on the Sparrow with a light, throaty, emphatically American voice that brought a dynamism and raw excitement to the performance.

Seraphic Fire repeats the concert 7:30 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables, 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, and 4 p.m. Sunday at Miami Beach Community Church. seraphicfire.org; 305-285-9060.

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Fri Nov 5, 2010
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