Seraphic Fire returns to the Renaissance for liturgical season opener

By David Fleshler

Patrick Dupre Quigley led Seraphic Fire in a  program of Renaissance music to open the choir's 12th season Wednesday night in Miami.

Patrick Dupre Quigley led Seraphic Fire in a program of Renaissance music to open the choir’s 12th season Wednesday night in Miami.

Before the concert hall or the opera house, there was the church.

Seraphic Fire returned to its liturgical roots Wednesday night, opening its 12th season with works composed for services in the Sistine Chapel.

In its Renaissance golden age, the chapel was a musical venue on the order of Carnegie Hall, attracting some of Europe’s greatest composers and singers, in addition to its preeminent status in the Catholic Church, Seraphic Fire’s artistic director, Patrick Dupré Quigley told the audience at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Miami.

“The Sistine Chapel was really the cradle of classical music at this time,” he said. “Tonight, instead of giving you a collage of these works, we’re going to recreate a service from the middle of the 15th century.”

And so six male singers intoned a plainchant, a medieval-sounding, monophonic work, as the other singers walked slowly up the aisle holding candles. They assembled in front of the church and under Quigley’s direction performed a program that alternated chants with the more harmonically elaborate music being composed at the time. After the first chants, for example, came the livelier Kyrie from Missa L’homme armé by Guillaume DuFay, its polyphonic complexity making a vivid contrast with the rugged medieval strength of the plainchant,  showing how quickly musical composition was progressing in that era.

The series of works by Palestrina, des Prez, de Victoria and several anonymous composers were performed without breaks for applause. Singing these works in a series, rather than as isolated concert works, was a highly effective manner of presentation, allowing listeners to travel a long distance in time without being constantly pulled back, and allowing the ear to settle into a melodic and harmonic language very different from what we hear from other musical eras.

The cathedral, a newcomer to Seraphic Fire’s many venues in three counties, is an ornate, domed church, Gilt-edged portraits of Christ, angels and the Apostles are visible in every direction, and the space offers a pleasing resonant acoustic.

The 13-member choir’s singing was technically excellent, with pure intonation, crisp articulation and a warm, glowing tone. Quigley led in a lively manner, allowing the music to ebb and flow without trying to impose more dynamic or dramatic contrast than it could handle.

In Surrexit Pastor Bonus by Jean l’Héritier, the contrast with plainchant was particularly vivid, with the work’s aching dissonances and harmonic tensions given a soaring, warmly luminous performance. For extra drama, one of the male singers mounted the curved staircase to the pulpit for a call-and-response chant of the Gospel. De Victoria’s Laudate Pueri Dominum á 8 built with magnificent energy, coming to a climax of alleluias that made for a spirited finale.

Seraphic Fire will repeat the program 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 All Souls Episcopal Church in Miami Beach.; 305-285-9060.

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Thu Oct 17, 2013
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