The Los Angeles Vocal Arts Ensemble proved to its near peril that a little kitsch can go an awful long way in traditional recitals, such as the one it gave Saturday at Ambassador Auditorium.
Now, there's nothing wrong with a little reaching across the footlights with a sparkle of personality. But when that creeps into one's artistry--and makes of that artistry a populist compromise--then there's trouble.
The ensemble tiptoed along the borderline most of the evening, with time out from show-bizziness only given to Brahms' incandescent "Liebeslieder" Waltzes (Opus 52), which stood out like a simple daisy among many hothouse blooms. But in the two Rossini souvenirs, "The Gondoliers" and "The Outing," the performers pushed the innate charm into cloying sentimentality and, although the singing per se was faultless, the pieces became annoyances.
In fact, throughout the evening, the vocalizing could hardly be faulted technically. Individually, the eight singers constitute a very mixed bag, but working together under director Armen Guzelimian they have a strength, a flexibility and a palette of colors that small choirs everywhere would do well to emulate. Among the stronger soloist lights were soprano Delcina Stevenson, tenor Laup Johnson and baritone Dale Morich.
The final section--a selection of Stephen Sondheim numbers--displayed the group in its best light. Sondheim is a composer who knows well that one soupcon of kitsch and seven heaping measures of solid craftsmanship produce winning musical theater, and that's a recipe that this group can follow perfectly.