Quigley leads Seraphic Fire in moving and revelatory Scarlatti perfomances

By Lawrence Budmen

Patrick Quigley led Seraphic Fire Friday night at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Coral Gables.

Just when it seems that Seraphic Fire has reached the pinnacle of choral singing, artistic director Patrick Quigley and his ensemble exceed themselves. 

In the chamber choir’s annual Enlightenment Festival Friday night at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Coral Gables, the ensemble set a new artistic standard with a performance of Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater.

Dubbed “A Scarlatti Family Affair,” the program featured the choral scores of Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) and his son Domenico (1685-1757). The year of Domenico Scarlatti’s birth was a milestone for future creative giants of the high Baroque. Bach and Handel were also born that same year.

Domenico Scarlatti wrote his Stabat Mater for ten voices in 1715 as he navigated the stylistic changes between the Renaissance and Baroque. That is fully evident in his setting of the Stabat Mater. By turns austere and grandly ornamental, the work is powerful and deeply moving. It is also a minefield for the performers who dare to attempt it. Scarlatti’s melodic inspiration is on full display as his penchant for writing at the extremes of vocal range.

The singers mastered the intricacies of Scarlatti’s reverent creation with impeccable intonation, accuracy and precision. Quigley splendidly balanced and blended the ten voices. In the opening section, Nola Richardson’s soprano floated through the sanctuary to stunning effect in her top notes. James Reese’s fine lyric tenor stood out in solo moments. The continuo accompaniment of organist Leon Schelhase and cellist Aaron Merrit added depth of sonority and expressive dramatic underpinning. The score’s contrapuntal finale was stirring and, even though the concert was not over, the audience rose simultaneously in acclamation of a memorable traversal of a remarkable work.

The program concluded with Domenico Scarlatti’s Te Deum. Written at the end of the composer’s life in 1756, the work is firmly rooted in the operatic vocalism of the high Baroque. Employing 12 voices divided into a double choir, Quigley brought rousing spirit and his unique ensemble mastery to this brief but rousing score.

Earlier in the evening, the a capella works of Alessandro Scarlatti proved fascinating discoveries. In his pre-performance commentary, Quigley proclaimed Alessandro “one of the revolutionary figures of the Italian Baroque.” He literally created the form of the da capo operatic aria and the Italian overture. His madrigals hark back to the austere writing of Palestrina but also forge forward into the aborning paths of the Baroque that would spawn Bach, Handel and Vivaldi.

“Sdegno la Fiamma Estinse” (I loathe the smoldering flame), the concert’s opening Italian madrigal, found thematic fragments bouncing around the chorus, the harmonies well ahead of the era. Despite the spare vocal lines, “Mori, mi Dici” (Die, you tell me) generated surprising emotive intensity. The choir’s superb balancing embellished the grave “O Morte” (O death) and their flawless execution of the dense vocal counterpoint in the madrigals and careful attention to dynamic variations were the epitome of fine choral singing.

The Missa Clementina was conceived by Alessandro Scarlatti on the occasion of the election of the first Pope in the eighteenth century. The three movements performed emerged in long, prayerful vocal paragraphs, sung with transparent clarity. In the calm pleas of the “Agnus Dei,” the high female voices rose above the group, producing gorgeous waves of sound. Quigley imbued this important sacred opus with fluency and flowing musicality.

For those who associate the name Scarlatti only with keyboard sonatas, this program will be a revelation. There are two remaining performances.

Seraphic Fire repeats the program 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. seraphicfire.org

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Sat Feb 17, 2024
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