An odd mixture of strong and weak elements, the performance of Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Sinfonia Orchestra and soloists led by Roger Wagner on Saturday night in the Pavilion of the Music Center, never seemed to synthesize its promise.
Wagner drew gorgeous sounds, frequent intensity of expression and occasional word-point (the performance was in English) from his 124-member choral aggregation. But he didn’t always achieve effective balances between chorale and orchestra, or between vocal soloists and the instrumental contingent.
Most disappointing, he did not pace the performance with a view to its natural (i.e., story-related) climaxes. The dramatic flow of the work thus became incidental, and accidental.
As a sound experience, this closing concert in the Master Chorale’s 21st season offered touching, although not always dynamically varied, performances of the chorales that dot the Passion landscape and provide its religious meaning. And harpsichordist Marvel Jensen, with cellist Frederick Seykora, provided expert and attentive teamwork in their continuo duties. The inconsistent Sinfonia Orchestra often overplayed.
After a tentative start, Jon Humphrey’s Evangelist achieved poignancy and dramatic ring. Douglas Lawrence’s Jesus emerged noble of utterance, dramatically centered. Among the dozen remaining vocal soloists, Annie Kim, Georgetta Psaros, Byron Wright and Douglas Botnick performed with varying degrees of musical effectiveness.