Virtuoso Rossini Arias, L. Brownlee, Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, C. Orbelian (Delos, 2014)
Spiritual Sketches, L. Brownlee, D. Sneed (2013)
As noted before, in terms of being a song recitalist, Brownlee is not to the manner born. In his first half, problems with pronunciation in sets of songs by Verdi, Poulenc, and Joseph Marx impeded the impact of Brownlee's otherwise fine performance. He was most comfortable when the song gave him a character to play with, like the chimney sweep yelling in the street in Verdi's Lo spazzacamino. Where the music required more of a focus on recitation of poetry and melodic line, he was hampered, but the sweet legato of his sound came across in the slower songs, if without the pyrotechnics of bel canto opera, his specialty, his voice did not have as much occasion to shine. The high point of the first half was a set of delectable songs by Joseph Marx, a composer who deserves a full-fledged resurrection from obscurity. Here and in the Poulenc songs, pianist Kevin Murphy tamed the daring keyboard accompaniments, like the mischievous prancing of Marx's charming Die Elfe, with panache and sensitivity, support that allowed Brownlee to open up vocally, as in the gorgeous Hat dich die Liebe berührt.
Anne Midgette, Lawrence Brownlee offers arc of self-revelation in Vocal Arts DC recital (Washington Post, May 15)
Brownlee, like the luscious soprano Krysty Swann, heard a couple years ago, cut his musical teeth on this music. Sneed, who hails from Georgia and has a similar dual background in Gospel and classical music, has made attractive, moving adaptations of lesser-known tunes, which set in the sweet spot of Brownlee's voice were devastatingly effective. Certainly, not a dry eye was left in the house when Brownlee dedicated All night, all day, with its angelic falsetto vocalises, to his son, Caleb, who is on the autistic spectrum. (Hear it for yourself as recorded for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.) The ovations earned three encores, Schubert’s Der Jüngling an der Quelle, the sentimental Be My Love, and -- finally -- an opera aria, Il mio tesoro from Mozart's Don Giovanni.
The 2014-15 season from Vocal Arts D.C. will feature recitals by Matthew Rose, Pretty Yende, John Brancy, Matthew Polenzani, Karine Deshayes, Karen Cargill, and the New York Festival of Song (featuring soprano Corinne Winters and tenor Theo Lebow).