Guinand mixes Bach masterwork and varied Latin music with Seraphic Fire

By Lawrence Budmen

Maria Guinand conducted Seraphic Fire Wednesday night at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Miami

Venezuelan choral director Maria Guinand brought a fascinating menu of Latin American choral works and a Bach masterpiece to Seraphic Fire Wednesday night at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Miami. The concert also managed an astute blend of classical and pop sensibilities.

Titled “Sacred/ Profane,” the four-part program’s first section was called “al mar” (to the sea). Opening with Renaissance composer Mateo Flecha el Viejo’s La Bomba, a vocal portrait of people in a sinking boat who are rescued and thank God for their safety. Changing vocal meters suggest the rocking of waves and the boat and the victims’ cries for help. The 13 singers’ velvety tonal sonority was equally distinctive in depicting the desperation of the boat’s passengers and the ultimate celebration of faith, especially the ethereal sound of the female choir members.

Contemporary madrigals by Inocente Carreño and Gonzalo Castellanos alternated between songful calm and less serene overtones. The modernist harmonics of Josè Antonio Calcaño’s Evohè demonstrated the choir’s versatility and Guinand’s superb control of dynamic contrasts.

The motet Jesus, meine Freude (Jesus, my joy) by Johann Sebastian Bach represented the concert’s sacred component. Presented in celebration of the 300th anniversary of Bach’s arrival in Leipzig, the 20-minute score dramatizes the struggle between good and evil with Satan depicted as a dragon. 

The main chorale finds Bach at his most inspired, made all the more effective at Guinand’s moderate pacing, which allowed the music space and breadth. Overlapping contrapuntal lines emerged clean and transparent. Guinand effectively delineated the sadness beneath the stately spiritual surface of Bach’s creation. 

Organist Justin Blackwell and cellist Sarah Stone unobtrusively underlined the eloquence of the chorale. The singers’ intonation was impeccable in Bach’s highly exposed vocal writing. (Jane Long’s pure, vibratoless soprano was a standout in solos in the Bach and Calcaño works.)

The section “Al amor” (to love) returned to the Spanish Renaissance with Francisco Guerrero’s “Claros y hermosos ojos” (clear and beautiful eyes). There was great beauty in the simplicity of conception of Guerrero’s spare, unembellished expressive invention. Tres Canciones de Amor by Manuel Oltra (1972-2015) mixed distinctive Spanish dance rhythms with sentimental languor. Chelsea Helm’s high soprano carried the soaring melody of Otilio Galindez’s  “Caramba mi amor” (Goodness gracious, my love) to enticing effect.

“Al humor” (to humor) opened with the folkish strains of “Cucú, Cucú” by Juan del Encina (1468-1529), sung with verve minus a conductor. Guinand returned for Teresica Hermana, Encina’s sly tale of a nun who dreams of escaping the convent for a night with her lover. 

The traditional Panamanian song “Guararè” (arranged by Alberto Grau) found the choir singing with delightful zeal and swinging their hands and hips. The evening concluded in joyful fashion with the Cuban pop song “El Guayaboso” by Guido López Gavilán (1944- ) sung with tremendous verve while maintaining the precision that has long been a Seraphic Fire trademark.

Seraphic Fire repeats the program 7 p.m. Thursday at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in Naples; 7:30 p.m. Friday at  St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Coral Gables; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale; and 4 p.m. Sunday at All Souls Episcopal Church in Miami Beach.

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Thu Mar 23, 2023
at 12:06 pm
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