In contrast with some of its past concerts--where a cornucopia of smaller pieces filled the program--the Camerata of Los Angeles offered two sizable works during its season-ending performance Saturday night at Embassy Theatre.
Conductor H. Vincent Mitzelfelt sought the musical high road with his readings of J.S. Bach's Cantata 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," and Mozart's C-minor Mass: passion, incisive rhythms and a wide dynamic range.
Yet, while the chorus and orchestra followed admirably Mitzelfelt's every crooked finger, only sections of the Mozart benefited from this unsubtle approach, and most of the Bach was made an unstylish, jarring hash.
The closing chorales of the cantata--better known as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"--were crisply sung by the reduced chorus, but elsewhere the sopranos and tenors approached their aspirated passagework with rank terror. Of the soloists, only tenor Keith Wyatt seemed to engage himself fully in the music, though his vocal equipment was sometimes inadequate for the task.
Once the fortissimos of the Kyrie rolled forth from the stage, one knew Mitzelfelt felt on surer ground in the Mass, one of Mozart's most dramatic utterances. Here--and in the "Qui tollis" and "Credo" sections as well--the chorus was a group transformed, singing with great point and purpose; and the orchestra--which poked along dutifully in Bach--responded to Mitzelfelt's emphatic urgings with spirit and fire.
Soprano Maurita Phillips-Thornburgh excelled in the less- taxing selections--her duet ("Domine Deus") with Barbara Love was spun out in intelligent and lovely fashion. But Phillips-Thornburgh came to grief on the cruelly demanding "Et in carnatus est," where her dusky instrument was simply unable to scale the heights that Mozart--here at his most demanding/sadistic--required.