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Music Reviews : Master Chorale Sings Bach Mass

October 13, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

The less-is-more aesthetic has come to the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The Nakamichi Concerts, a new series stressing smaller ensembles in relatively intimate settings, began with performances of Bach's B-minor Mass, Friday at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach and Saturday at the Japan America Theatre.

A reduction to 30 singers did not mean that the Master Chorale suddenly converted to the period-authenticity cause. As a musical matter, it had effect mainly in the most brilliant choruses, where conductor John Currie enforced light, staccato singing and quick tempos.

Otherwise, there was little Saturday that could not have been sung by the full Chorale. Contrapuntal clarity certainly did not seem to be the objective, in the opening choruses at least. Individual lines dissolved into a thoroughly democratic mass, with even the dynamic scale left largely as a product of texture.

Currie seemed to leave embellishment to the discretion of his soloists, both vocal and instrumental. The results were modest--in some cases little more than the occasional cadential trill or appoggiatura--and inconsistent.

Nine vocal soloists stepped forward from the Chorale. Light, bright sound and supple phrasing characterized their efforts, led with greatest distinction by mezzo Jennifer Williams, baritone Kevin Dalbey, and bass Craig Kingsbury.

The instrumental obbligatos usually partnered the singers with sensitive grace, Thomas Boyd's mellifluous, stylish oboe d'amore playing and James Thatcher's burnished horn display most effectively. As a unit the Sinfonia Orchestra worked neatly enough, though often overpowering both the chorus and individual singers.

Currie made real efforts to integrate and dramatize the elements of each major division of the Mass. Ultimately, however, his reading sounded small scale, in spirit as well as numbers.

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