From far-flung homes, Seraphic Fire’s streaming Christmas program provides its holiday glow

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Seraphic Fire’s “Home for the Holidays” is available online through December 26.

In the hectic near-decade (2000-2009) I spent as a music critic in South Florida—at two newspapers and then founding South Florida Classical Review—one of the events I most looked forward to was Seraphic Fire’s Christmas programs. Partly that was because the reviews were fairly easy to write and gave me a chance to relax and just enjoy the music—but primarily because the program selections were so discerning and the performances so consistently excellent. It was also heartening to see these annual events grow from just one holiday program among many into a hugely popular and beloved South Florida holiday tradition.

One of the few positive things to come out of this Covid-19 music season is that the necessary turn to online streaming allows one to hear events around the country that one would normally have to attend in person. Such is the case with “Seraphic Fire’s “Home for the Holidays,” released Sunday afternoon and available online through December 26.

As with every streaming program I’ve seen over the past many months, there were minor technical glitches. The prerecorded stream froze up twice at the 2:48 mark, the first time necessitating logging out and back in to start over. After the second hiccup in the same place the stream continued without incident for the rest of the program. Also in some of the ensemble performances, the audio and video in the boxes of individual singer were not always in synch but such moments were fleeting.

The event was hosted by the choir’s associate conductor James K. Bass, who took over the holiday programs from artistic director Patrick Dupré Quigley in 2015. The title “Home for the Holidays” was never more apt; due to the dictates of social distancing and the current difficulties of travel, the dozen Seraphic Fire singers made individual contributions from their far-flung homes—including California, Chicago, New York and Canada—which were then skillfully edited and spliced together.

Zoom choral performances in multiple boxes have become something of a cliche in this pandemic era, with listeners and commentators invariably hailing the effort itself and overlooking the synthetic sound and often artistically appalling results.    

Happily, such is not the case here. The full ensemble had the familiar Seraphic qualities of tonal polish, smooth blending and clarity of words, even conveying the acoustical glow of its usual church venues. Editing was fluent and visuals mostly unobtrusive, blending Nativity paintings, Renaissance scores and Christmas decorations into the performances.

In a concession to the circumstances, the 53-minute program was shorter than usual and leaned more towards the populist side but few Seraphic regulars are likely to be disappointed.

The opening “Adeste fideles,” set the tone, Quigley’s arrangement moving from low voices to high and performed with the crystalline purity one has long come to expect. “Greensleeves” (“What Child is This?”) made its belated Seraphic Fire debut sung by a quartet of male voices.

The spiritual “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” provided the most visually striking contribution with alto William Duffy performing a free rendition from the empty nave of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in Montreal. Soprano Chelsea Helm sang “O Holy Night,” in a vid that showed her gazing beatifically on a succession of Christmas trees in New York.

Many Seraphic seasonal favorites were represented, including “Es ist ein Ros,” “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree” and, of course, “Silent Night.”

Individual singers introduced works with personal reminiscences of Christmas, humorous, engaging or affecting by turns. Perhaps most touching was that of Alexandra Coloaizi. Making her debut as a Seraphic Fire member this season, the alto spoke of attending Seraphic Fire as a young girl and bringing friends and family members to these events.

Bass Michael Hawes showed his versatility, contributing not just as singer but as instrumentalist. His solo trumpet arrangements provided a nice contrast with the vocal selections including a mellow account of “The Christmas Song” and concluding the concert with an aptly nostalgic “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

“Home for the Holidays” is available online through December 26.

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Mon Dec 21, 2020
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