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.
The vocal soloists, who almost always sang along with the chorus, varied considerably. Soprano Maurita Phillips-Thornburgh and mezzo-soprano Kathryn Underwood brought opulent, steady vocalism to their duties. Soprano Barbara Dove was wobbly and less reliable. Keith Wyatt, with his frayed, papery tenor, and baritone Arthur Edwards, at times apparently reading rather than singing, were inadequate.