Seraphic Fire makes a joyful sound with Handel and Charpentier

By Lawrence Budmen

Patrick Quigley conducted Seraphic Fire in music of Bach and Mahler Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Patrick Quigley conducted Seraphic Fire and The Sebastians Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Festive music dominated Seraphic Fire’s program Friday night at All Saints Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale. With a charming interlude from English master Henry Purcell, the main bill of fare comprised anthems for the coronation of British monarchs and a masterpiece from the French Baroque.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier is best known today for his Midnight Mass, a perennial favorite at Christmas concerts and worship services. His Te Deum in D Major may be an even greater work. Likely composed to commemorate the French victory at the Battle of Steinkirk, Charpentier’s treatment of the sacred text is festive and joyous, replete with enchanting melodic writing in the distinctively ornate French Baroque manner.

The score’s overture is well known as a separate instrumental work. Opening with timpani rolls, three trumpets intone the rousing theme, later joined by strings. Patrick Quigley set a fast tempo and, playing long, valveless period trumpets, Josh Cohen, Dennis Ferry and Timothy Will responded with clarion tone and strength. The choral sonority sounded considerably larger than Quigley’s chamber forces, with a nearly ethereal blending of timbres.

Among the excellent soloists, the warm bass of James Bass, Steven Soph’s dulcet lyric tenor and Reginald Mobley’s agile countertenor  demonstrated mastery in the difficult male vocal writing.  Bass also excelled in the mock seriousness of the low-register coloratura for the Cold Genius in an excerpt from Purcell’s King Arthur.

The concert opened with Handel’s grandly ceremonial Overture for an Occasional Oratorio. The Sebastians, Seraphic Fire’s instrumental partners, sounded lithe and revitalized. Last season, in their initial appearances, the New York-based period-instrument band exhibited recurrent intonation problems in the strings and technical lapses in the winds and brass.

Throughout Friday’s concert, the group played with unison precision, the strings tightly knit and producing mellow warmth of tone. Concertmaster Daniel Lee excelled in solos in the Handel pieces. Quigley gave brisk exhilaration to the overture’s sprightly Allegro, and the string articulation was clean with inner voices transparent.

The King Shall Rejoice, written for Handel’s patron George I, opens with the blare of trumpets but the score is considerably more subtle and intricate. Quigley excels at these type of works and his melding of male and female voices was beautifully done. The graceful melody of “Exceedingly glad shall he be,” the anthem’s second section, was assayed with restraint and elegance. In the final Alleluia, the group’s articulation was crisp and accurate.

Zadok the Priest has been performed at every British coronation since 1727. The corporate vocal ensemble was superb easily surmounting the score’s intricacies. Trills were spot on, eliciting smiles from the singers. My Heart is Inditing, created for the anointment of Caroline, the Queen Consort, is less ornate. Quigley concentrated on beauty of sound and directness of expression. Charles Evans’ rounded bass and the bright, clear soprano of Sarah Moyer were particularly distinguished in solo moments. Indeed Moyers’ sound was well-nigh perfect for Baroque works and one wants to hear more from this obviously gifted singer.

The anthem’s final Amen is substantially the same musical text that Handel would later utilize for the conclusion of Messiah. Orchestral and instrumental balances were finely calibrated by Quigley for this last burst of joyous pomp and circumstance.

Seraphic Fire repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at Miami Shores Presbyterian Church; 4 p.m. Sunday at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Trinity Wall Street in New York; and 7:30 p.m.Thursday at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The New York performance on Wednesday will be webcast at

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Sat Nov 7, 2015
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