Firebird Chamber Orchestra flies high in season opener

By David Fleshler

Painting by Merrill Mahaffey

The Firebird Chamber Orchestra, the string ensemble spawned by the choir Seraphic Fire, played its first concert of the season Wednesday in Miami, a buoyant performance that showed continued improvement in the orchestra’s style and technique.

The 14-member ensemble is now in its fourth season. Like the choir, the chamber orchestra recruits musicians from around the country who fly in for rehearsals and concerts. Wednesday’s concert at St. Jude Melkite Catholic Church under the direction of Seraphic Fire founder and artistic director Patrick Dupré Quigley showed it is emerging as a significant component of the South Florida classical scene in its own right.

The church’s warm acoustics, which give the choir’s sound a rich, rounded glow, resulted in some cloudiness in rapid passages, but that wasn’t the ensemble’s fault. Although few ensembles would be able to approach the choir’s preternaturally perfect intonation and precision, the orchestra showed great improvement in these areas.

The finest performance came in Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, one of the great works of the string orchestra repertoire. The opening chorale filled the church with rich, vivid tone. The orchestra captured the lightness and grace of the Valse movement, and the Elegie was full of intense, passionate melody. There were a few glitches in fast passages in the last movement, but these moments were rare and the orchestra’s confident assertiveness carried off the performance with style.

The concert opened with Mozart’s well-known Divertimento in D Major, K. 136, a bubbly, youthful work that was given an animated, engaged performance. The members of the orchestra played in something of a period style, using swift, light bow strokes and spare vibrato. Quigley conducted in a dynamically active manner — the music always seemed to be getting louder or softer or faster — without seeming fussy or distorting the score. The small orchestra achieved a surprisingly rich sound in the Andante, assisted by the church’s warm acoustics. The concluding Presto was quick, light and brilliantly articulated, with a highlight in the crisp passagework by the second violins in the movement’s busy inner voices.

Mendelssohn’s early Sinfonia for Strings No. 8 in D Major, composed at the age of 13, sounds like music of the late 18th century, although some passages foreshadow the famous Mendelssohn works that were to come. The highlight was the brooding Adagio, focused on a spiky, almost sinister solo by violist Doyle Armbrust, played in dark, burnished tone but always with refined phrasing.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Boca Raton; 7:30 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church, Coral Gables; 7:30 p.m Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church, Fort Lauderdale; and 4 p.m. Sunday at Miami Beach Community Church.; 305-285-9060.

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Thu Nov 17, 2011
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