It seemed like an amateur choral night when the Camerata of Los Angeles, directed by H. Vincent Mitzelfelt, sang Bach's Mass in B minor Saturday at the Embassy Theatre.
In the big statements, assisted by the vocal soloists and supported by the stylishly small orchestra, the chorale could sound powerful and reasonably well-nourished. But its anemia and insecurity became quickly apparent as soon as any contrapuntal passages started. Attacks were weak, lines unsteady, the sound muddy and badly integrated.
Mitzelfelt favored period-style, brisk tempos and uninflected phrasing, although he did allow himself the occasional indulgence of prolonging final notes. Often, the music was driven; almost always the meaning of the texts was slighted, and the result was a lack in spiritual or dramatic values.
The 24-member pick-up orchestra, as heard from the first floor, frequently overpowered the singers, but from the front of the balcony one heard a more favorable balance. Several of the members looked familiar from the Bach Festival held last summer in Long Beach, which might account for their comfort with the seemingly authentic period-style demands. The instrumental-obbligato soloists stood when they played.