Cleveland Orchestra, Seraphic Fire ascend the heights with Bach and Bruckner

South Florida Classical Review
Lawrence Budmen
January 28, 2017

The pairing of the Cleveland Orchestra and Seraphic Fire with music by Bach and Bruckner drew a large audience to the Arsht Center on Friday night and the combined musical forces, each performing their signature repertory, did not disappoint.

Choral works of Johann Sebastian Bach have been central to the programming of Patrick Quigley’s outstanding choral group. The massive symphonies of Anton Bruckner have been a house specialty in Cleveland during Franz Welser-Möst’s musical directorship. With both ensembles in top form, the evening proved one of the Clevelanders’ finest concerts in ten years of Miami residencies.

The program’s first half comprised a complete Bach cantata and choruses from two others played without pause as one large musical canvas. Seraphic Fire’s complement of twenty-five voices, nearly twice as large as its usual forces, stood directly behind the reduced Cleveland Orchestra forces.

The opening and closing choruses of this segment offered music that Bach later recycled for the Mass in B minor, his late masterpiece. Two trumpets, timpani and strings set the joyous mood of “Gloria in excelsis Deo”from Cantata No. 191. The choir’s projection over the orchestra was clear and resounded throughout the Knight Concert Hall. In the five-part fugue of the contrasting second section, Seraphic Fire’s unique sonority and vocal blend potently came to the fore.

The Cantata No. 34, O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, (O eternal fire, o source of love) is prime Bach with the central mezzo-soprano aria one of his finest vocal inspirations. The choir’s first entrance was marked by tight and precise ensemble singing and Bach’s weaving of overlapping vocal lines was rendered with spot-on clarity.

Welser-Möst demonstrated a fine sense of Baroque style with taut tempos and fine balancing of instrumental and vocal components. In recitatives, Steven Soph’s excellent lyric tenor and James K. Bass’ firm and voluminous bass were pillars of strength. The central aria “Wohl euch, ihr auserwähiten dir” (Wise is he who has selected you). was superbly sung by Jennifer Johnson Cano. Her range was wide with low notes free of vibrato or unsteadiness. Cano’s lovely mezzo timbre, affinity for Baroque style and emotional projection of the text were a real luxury. Marisela Sager’s elegantly tailored flute obbligato was a delight to hear.

The sublime melody of the chorus “Wir danken dir, Gott” (We thank you God) from Cantata No. 29 is better known as the concluding “Dona nobis pacem” of the B minor Mass. Sung and played with serene beauty, this Bach gem was an appropriate conclusion to this first collaboration between Miami’s splendid chamber choir and one of America’s finest orchestras.

(This review has been truncated as the rest of the source article did not pertain to Seraphic Fire.)
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