The Miami Herald
Only one word seems apt enough to characterize the musical artistry the members of Seraphic Fire demonstrated at Wednesday’s summer-season opening concert: destiny.
The choral group’s perfect balance of tone quality, control, range and dynamic variation far exceeded expectations in its 15-song performance of American folk and gospel music.
The intimate scale of St. Christopher’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Key Biscayne played into the concert’s theme of ”Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” especially given that the ensemble’s dozen singers stood within a handshake of the audience, within just a few feet of the pews, a proximity that allowed them to conjure, without microphones or amplifiers, a terrific, exposed sound.
The evening included selections Seraphic artistic director Patrick Dupre Quigley calls ”bluegrass songs” as well as contemporary gospel. Though at times the choir was accompanied by piano, bass and guitar, its most subtle instrument — the a cappella voice — is, of course, its showcase. A call-and-response church medley expertly demonstrated the ensemble’s control through rubato tempo and simultaneous glissando, and the syncopated rhythms and triplet phrasing of Rockin’ Jerusalem — not to forget a fine solo by Suzanne Hatcher — hardly could have been more dramatic or dynamic.
The program included some obvious crowd pleasers, such as the male singers’ rendition of I’ll Fly Away, plus the full choir on a rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic and a finale that melded When the Saints Go Marching In with I Am a Soldier in the Army of the Lord.
A few songs — such as Never Grow Old by the ensemble’s female members and Through It All, which deserves a listen simply for tenor Sam Spears’ moving solo — seemed to pad the program needlessly.
But for the poetic Gather at the River, by a young New Orleans composer inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, highlighted by its strong solo from tenor Darrin Stafford, voices flowed and blended seamlessly, like water.
Audience participation was encouraged — and enthusiastically reciprocated — during God’s Amazing Grace, in which soloists introduced the verses of the traditional hymn with short narrative strains. And countertenor Reginald Mobley, whose incredible range and sweet tone dropped listeners’ jaws whenever he stepped forward, sang ”I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,” from the concert’s title number with heart-wrenching, gentle sadness.
Listening to such music is like hearing all of life’s sweetness, love, grief and beauty as it rolls toward you.