H. Vincent Mitzelfelt and the Camerata of Los Angeles put the durability and hardiness of Johann Sebastian Bach to the severest test Saturday night at the Embassy Theatre. Happily, the composer's "St. John" Passion, performed with mere hints of the tenderness, grandeur and virtuosity indispensable to it, prevailed on its own merit.
Amplification--ridiculous in so small a hall--wrecked balance, tone quality, dynamics, nuance, atmosphere. Gambaist Carol Herman and harpsichordist Patrick Rodgers gave pleasure, but the ensemble at full tilt could turn scrappy and consistently swamped several underpowered vocal soloists.
Tenor Keith Wyatt offered a few exquisite phrases in fleeting glimpses of the fine sound he could once deploy. Kent Kornmeyer's every word was intelligible, but his tiny, attenuated tenor simply does not reach as high as much of the Evangelist's music. Utilitarian baritone Arthur Edwards was detrimentally cast as Jesus.
Mitzelfelt led hectically: no dawdling, no elasticity. What choral clarity the amplification didn't destroy, the tempos frequently did. Exceptions: the four chorales of Part III. In the end, Bach's glorious expression won a Pyrrhic victory, lifting this blemished company above its manifest limitations.
The last fifth of the "Passion," beginning just after Christ's death, was characterized by greater musical cohesion, depth of feeling and execution from all quarters--particularly mezzo Kathryn Underwood and baritone Scott Raines--proving that nothing's impossible.