By Lawrence Budmen

The Tropical Baroque Music Festival (presented by the Miami Bach Society) has been a stimulating, revelatory traversal of European artistic influences in the Americas. The melding of Continental musicians of the Baroque era and native Indian populations often produced a cross cultural hybrid that was distinctively New World. 

On Monday Concerto Soave, a French early music group, presented a remarkable program at St. Phillipís Episcopal Church. The Argentinean soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr is not only the star of this ensemble but one of the finest Baroque vocalists on the international music scene. Kiehrís vibratoless high register has a unique other worldly quality. The sopranoís lower range is rich and vibrant. Kiehrís passionate declamation, ethereal vocalism, and blonde angelic aura held the audience spellbound. 

Music of Barbara Strozzi, a 17th century liberated woman and a formidable composer, was a wonderful discovery. The vocal line in Strozziís O, Maria (an ode to the Virgin) has the Italianate grace of the Venetian master Claudio Monteverdi while the organ and viola da gamba accompaniment is remarkably austere and modern. Amante Segreto found Strozzi in a very different vein Ė playful and sensual. Backing Kiehrís pristine vocalism, the nimble vivacity of harpsichordist Jean-Marc Aymes and the aristocratic phrasing of viola da gamba virtuoso Jay Bernfeld were a total delight.

It was in the music of Monteverdi that Kiehr shone most brightly. An impassioned, mesmeric account of the rarely heard, incredibly beautiful scena Piano della Madonna was awesome. Her effortless coloratura in Quel Sguardo Sdegnosetto was the kind of singing of which legends are made. 

On Tuesday The Millenium Ensemble (from Antigua) brought the music of the Guatemalan highlands to the Sanctuary of Coral Gables Congregational Church. While several of the compositions on the program were formula ridden attempts by Central American composers to copy European genres, Rafael Antonio Castellanosís Gitanillas and Negros de Guarangana were a delightful combination of Latin rhythms, folk music, and Baroque modes. Cristina Altamira revealed a light soprano voice and natural, winning manner. Dieter Lehnhoff offered stylish fiddle work and deft leadership in a fascinating view of Baroque art in the Western hemisphere. 

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