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Lawrence Brownlee Returns to Wolf Trap

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Rossini, Virtuoso Arias, L. Brownlee, Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, C. Orbelian
(Delos, 2014)
The last time that Lawrence Brownlee returned to his old stomping ground at Wolf Trap Opera, to help celebrate the company's 40th anniversary, he sang to his strengths, in Italian bel canto opera. When the American tenor appeared on Friday night, for the latest in the series of Wolf Trap alumni recitals on Friday night, the repertory was Italian, but less challenging and, frankly, less interesting art songs that paled in comparison. On the other hand, one can understand Brownlee's decision to take it easy on himself, as he is in the midst of preparations to reprise the role of Charlie Parker in Philadephia Opera's new opera Yardbird, this weekend in New York.

Anyone who has ever taken voice lessons, including yours truly, has sung at least one of the first four songs on this program, working from Schirmer's classic collection of Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias. They are sturdy, overdone pieces, hardly scintillating fare, and Brownlee did nothing to make them stand out in any particular way, reinforcing my impression that he is not really a natural recitalist. His busily intense vibrato went a little haywire on the first one, Torelli's Tu lo sai, although that may have just been nerves, since in other slow pieces, like Scarlatti's O cessate di piagarmi, the vibrato was less noticeable. As in his opera repertory, he excels in fast pieces with lots of runs, so Legrenzi's Che fiero costume was better suited to him, although Rossini's careening La Danza posed some challenges to his accompanist, company director Kim Pensinger Witman, although in all other respects, she was a sensitive musical partner, as always.

Other Reviews:

Joan Reinthaler, Here’s why Lawrence Brownlee is a rising opera star (Washington Post, March 29)

Peter Benecke, Stunning Brownlee Recital in Weill Capped by High C's (Classical Sonoma, March 11)
High notes, for which Brownlee is renowned, were few and far between, starting with a high A in a lovely rendition of Bellini's Malinconia, Ninfa gentile and even higher in Rossini's La lontananza. He took his time phrasing the delicately sad lines of Bellini's La Ricordanza, reworked by the composer from the soprano aria Qui la voce in I Puritani, and in Rossini's L'esule, with the beautiful refrain "ma questo suol non è la Patria mia" (but this soil is not my Fatherland). Brownlee is working on a crossover album of popular song favorites, which he tried out for the first time in the second half of this recital (not reviewed). While I would have welcomed another listening to Brownlee's Gospel arrangements instead, this set did not yet sound quite fully formed.

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