With a soaring final chorus, David Wilson closed the 17th annual Long Beach Bach Festival on Sunday with a sometimes inspiring, sometimes dutiful performance of the "St. Matthew" Passion at the Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Augmented by the 40 boys and men of the Noordhollands Jongenskoor (Hendrik Timmerman, director), the Festival Choir numbered nearly 100 members, and could make a mighty, richly-nourished sound--the boy sopranos introducing attractive woody, pure glints of tone.
But with those numbers (against an orchestra of approximately 30 players), contrapuntal lines--after initially strong entrances--easily grew muddled.
Wilson inclined toward fast tempos--perhaps an inevitability in a complete performance of the work. He excelled in maintaining clear orchestral textures and dynamic balances. He tended to view the chorales as full-strength utterances of faith and community.
He also could resort to sewing-machine rhythms, fall victim to the tyranny of the bar line in demarcating phrases in the recitatives and straight-jacket the soloists.
Michael Sells grew pinched and dry-toned in the Herculean responsibilities and high-lying lines of the Evangelist, but executed his duties with persuasion.
Charles Roe ventured an oracular, strong-voiced Jesus, affecting in the last cry from the cross, but otherwise remote from the human side of the biblical figure.
The solo quartet varied, with vocal production usually taking precedence over making the text, especially the recitatives, a personal expression. Cynthia Westphal sang with a silvery, clear soprano, and often muddled diction. Adelaide Sinclair offered a creamy mezzo and bland delivery. Tenor Paul Johnson sang with bright, warm tone. Bass Norman Goss vocally ebbed and flowed, but articulated the text--particularly the character parts of Judas and Pilate--with telling expression.