SERAPHIC FIRE (10/7/2005)

By Lawrence Budmen 

Claudio Monteverdi was one of musicís greatest creative geniuses. The 17th century Italian master changed liturgical music forever in 1610 with his Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. That masterpiece received its belated Florida premiere on Friday night at the First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables when Patrick Dupre Quigley conducted Seraphic Fire in a remarkable recreation of the scoreís early performances in the chapels of princes. 

Monteverdi lived on the cusp of the Renaissance and Baroque eras and his music effortlessly makes that artistic journey. Fielding a thirteen voice choir and only lute and organ as instrumental continuo, Quigley led a performance of tremendous vitality and authority. With first rate singers Quigley, a scrupulous Baroque stylist, has built a nimble, high precision ensemble. 

The conductor turned the hushed opening into a mystical exhortation. Chants and madrigal singing run through Monteverdiís mesmerizing aural tapestry. The angelic sound of the female voices in the Dixit Dominus was magical. 

Matthew Treslerís appealing lyric tenor voice had remarkable flexibility in the high register in an ornate Baroque aria with swirling lute accompaniment. In a duet for two sopranos Karen Nealís stunning high, pure tones contrasted vividly with the darker sound of Mellissa Hughes. (In this extraordinary duo Monteverdi foreshadows Mozartís operas and even the bel canto writing of Bellini.) Tenor Derek Chester tossed off roulades of coloratura in a firm, secure voice. The dusky sound of mezzo-soprano Misty Bermudez and the agile, other worldly timbre of countertenor Ian Howell turned vocal cameos into star turns. 

David Dolata provided elegant, beautifully integrated support on lute. The superbly inventive organ continuo was masterfully played by Scott Allen Jarrett, one of Bostonís leading choral conductors. 

The final Magnificat is the summation of a unique score. In alternating solo and choral passages of a spiritual and vigorous nature, Seraphic Fire brought heavenly sounds to a sacred space. Quigleyís inspired leadership culminated in a finale that approached sublimity.

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