Seraphic Fire delivers one of its finest performances with “Psalms of David” program

By Lawrence Budmen

Patrick Dupre Quigley led Seraphic Fire in a program of psalm settings Wednesday night in Miami.

Seraphic Fire has presented some of the most consistently first-rate musical events in South Florida. Yet even by the elevated standards of Patrick Quigley’s elite chamber choir, the current “Psalms of David” program reached a new level. Offering a generous and highly varied series of psalm settings that contrast Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary Biblical adaptations and musical styles, the concert radiates both joyous celebration and anguished pathos in soaring vocal tones.

The choir surpassed even some of its finest previous offerings at Wednesday night’s performance at St. Jude Melkite Catholic Church. Enhanced by the outstanding acoustics of the venue in Brickell Avenue’s condo canyon, the Seraphic singers exhibited corporate solidity, clarity and tonal luminance. Quigley’s meticulous direction was alert to pulsating lines and inner voicings, channeling minute details as well as the grand musical arcs.

Opening with the homespun Americana of Virgil Thomson’s setting of Psalm 23: My Shepherd will Supply My Need, Quigley’s drew mellifluous blending of the highest female voices with low bass tones of the male contingent, producing sounds both rich and ethereal.

Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin has proven one of Seraphic Fire’s most durable offerings. In repeated performances and a best-selling recording, Quigley has channeled the visceral power and striking beauty of  Monteverdi’s revolutionary polyphony. In the Dixit Dominus (Psalm 110) from this choral masterpiece, joy and reverence were conveyed in ideal balance. The wonderfully supple continuo of Patti Garvey Rynearson’s warm viola da gamba and Justin Thomas Blackwell’s nimbly articulated organ added vital underpinning.

Two settings of Psalm 137 (By the Waters of Babylon) could not have differed in greater detail. Palestrina’s spare vocal lines were filled with deep emotion, the purity of the sopranos’ tone appropriately otherworldly. The Estonian mystic Arvo Pärt’s version sets only one repeated tone, first as soprano, tenor and bass solos, followed by layered choral textures with cello and organ adding dissonance to the minimalist vocal line. Rising to a high crescendo in the voices’ upper registers, the score assays cries of pain from enslavement and exile. The radiant solos of Vincent Davies, Rebecca Duren and Thomas McCargar and the ensemble’s finely terraced dynamics superbly enhanced the moving poignancy of Pärt’s work.

Domenico Scarlatti’s Laetatus sum (Psalm 122) flows with the warmth of Italianate operatic and vocal tradition. The felicitous duo of soprano Molly Quinn and countertenor Reginald Mobley resounded in hues subtle and angelic. Qugley’s vivacious direction brought enlivening lilt to this all too rarely performed masterwork.

The genteel British choral writing of Charles Villiers Stanford, the melodic beauty of Mendelssohn, vociferous grace of Johann Pachelbel (of oft played Canon in D fame) and austere textures of Heinrich Schutz were vibrantly represented in nuanced choral vignettes.

J.S. Bach’s motet Singet dem Herrn, (Sing unto the Lord), a  setting of Psalms 149 and 150, brought the concert to an enlivening conclusion. Quigley’s flawless sense of pulse and contrapuntal precision produced singing of festive exhilaration and fervent intensity. Lovers of choral and vocal music should not miss this memorable program, a wonderful prelude to the coming holidays.

Seraphic Fire repeats the program 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton and Friday at First United Methodist Church in 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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Thu Nov 15, 2012
at 1:20 pm
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