Seraphic Fire wraps its season with request night and a new CD

By Dorothy Hindman

Patrick Dupre Quigley led Seraphic Fire in a “Cathedral Classics” program Wednesday night at St. Jude Melkite Church in Miami.

Seraphic Fire has an unusual, appealing twist wrapping up its 11th season. Two weeks ago, each “Cathedral Classics” ticket holder received an email allowing them to vote for their favorite choral works from a list of over thirty pieces. The resulting season-closing program is a reservoir of twenty possible works, with the final linuep chosen by artistic director Patrick Dupré Quigley and the ensemble before each concert.

While most audiences will probably hear the advertised Renaissance masterpiece Miserere by Gregorio Allegri for two antiphonal choirs, it’s equally likely that each venue will have a slightly different program, promises Quigley. Adding to the challenge, most of the works are new repertoire for Seraphic Fire.

Wednesday evening’s concert at St. Jude Melkite Catholic Church in downtown Miami offered a satisfying ninety minutes of Renaissance to contemporary works, with something to please everyone’s palate.  Exquisitely rendered favorites included Thomas Tallis’ If ye love me, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo, and Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi caritas et amor.

Featured all evening, Seraphic Fire’s bass section amazed with spectacular low drones, first in Arvo Pärt’s I Am the True Vine, and then later for the full, breathtaking duration of Sir John Tavener’s Song for Athene. 

Pärt’s simple melodic line, occasionally in two-part harmony, is sung in solos, duets and trios. The virtuosic challenge lies in the Estonian composer’s constant doubling and dropping of singers from one note to the next, presenting a fascinating kaleidoscope of colors, and exposing every voice. A clear audience favorite, Seraphic Fire should repeat this on their remaining programs.

The Song for Athene, written for Princess Diana’s funeral, adds tenor Alleluia refrains and two-part melodies above the unceasing drone. The ensemble’s deft handling of Tavener’s sudden shifts from sunny major to heartfelt minor packed an emotional wallop.

Similarly impressive intonation from the ensemble marked the strikingly unexpected dissonances and key changes in Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo’s O Vos Omnes.  However, Sir Albert Sullivan’s The Long Day Closes, with its chocolaty, descending Romantic harmonies drifted a bit too far downward at times, hampering its final push for brightness.

Seraphic Fire’s personnel varies slightly with each program, and this current lineup is richly resonant, pure and occasionally shimmering, particularly well suited to the program’s heavy emphasis on ensemble singing.

The requisite highs were also prevalent, with the sopranos earning goose bumps right out of the gate in Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus, an expertly balanced eight-part Baroque motet. Among the few soloists on the program, Gitanjali Mathur’s skyrocketing coloratura soprano from the Miserere’s antiphonal quartet at the rear of the church literally turned heads.

In the same work, Vincent Davies’ plaintive, expressive cantor was confidently solid. And while not quite a solo, tenor Bryon Grohman, emerging in tandem with the always-phenomenal countertenor Reginald Mobley, led a thrilling crescendo in the Rachmaninoff.

A special excitement fueled Seraphic Fire’s performance Wednesday night with the ensemble just releasing a new, self-titled CD on Tuesday. Armed with Sharpies for autographs, Seraphic Fire’s singers left the church on a high, as did the audience.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton; 7:30 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables; 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale; and 4 p.m. Sunday at Miami Beach Community Church.  305-285-9060;  

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Thu May 9, 2013
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