By Lawrence Budmen

The remarkable chamber choir Seraphic Fire continues to explore fascinating vocal repertoire. On Friday the groupís brilliant director Patrick Dupre Quigley turned to Sephardic Fire, a kaleidoscopic survey of 1000 years of Jewish sacred music.

The warm ambience and resonant acoustics of First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables were perfect for the antiphonal voicings of The Praise of Moses by Obadiah the Proselyte. As the first ethereal tones of the deeply moving May the Words of My Mouth by Elliot Levine (a member of the famous Western Wind Choir) sounded from the rear of the sanctuary, Quigley achieved a gorgeous vocal blend and velvet wave of sound that seemed to come from some higher world. 

A series of Sephardic and Babylonian folk pieces introduced indigenous idioms and striking harmonies. The superb intonation and vivid musicality of soprano Gabrielle Tinto and the mellow baritonal sound of Michael Bradford were delightful in the lively Anim Zemirot. Durme, Durme was a soaring lullaby at once tender and powerful. The choirís beautiful female voices produced ravishing sounds in the upper register Ė heavenly indeed. 

In the grand tradition of Richard Tucker and Herman Malamood, tenor Matthew Tresler brought operatic fervor and impressive vocal declamation to Ashkenazic cantorial chants by Abraham Shapiro and A.M. Rabinowitch. In the solemn Yom Kippur prayer Kol Nidre by Hirsch Weintraub, the fine Mozartean lyric tenor Derek Chester and the manly baritone of Paul Max Tipton sang out nobly. 

The music of Felix Mendelssohn introduced a note of German romanticism. The octet from the oratorio Elijah was borne on wings of song with gossamer choral hues. The strong, emphatic peroration that commences Mendelssohnís setting of Psalm 43 recalls the composerís Reformation Symphony. 

Excerpts from Canadian composer Sid Robinovitchís Talmud Suite combined Renaissance harmonies and astringent dissonance filtered through a modernist, spatial prism. The alluring coloration of soprano Mellissa Hughes ignited the peaceful ecstasy of An American Kedushah by Alice Parker (a former assistant to distinguished choral director Robert Shaw). 

In celebration of St. Patrickís Day, an exquisitely sung version of Danny Boy was a soaring finale to a miraculous feast of song.

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