A Multilingual Stirring of the Spirits
From The New York Times, April 01 2013
During the second half of his recital at Zankel Hall on Thursday evening, the tenor Lawrence Brownlee said that as he was planning the program, which featured songs in five languages, he felt a responsibility to include works in English. As a young African-American with a background singing in church, he said he also felt a responsibility to carry on the tradition of spirituals.
The English songs proved the highlight of a rewarding collaboration with the superlative pianist Martin Katz. They concluded with arrangements of five spirituals by Damien Sneed that blended gospel, jazz and classical elements.
Mr. Brownlee, who has earned a strong reputation in the bel canto repertory, with his agile voice and lustrous top notes, sang potently in the selections, which he has recorded for release later this year. They included “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” with Mr. Katz deftly playing the syncopated piano part, and a moving interpretation of Mr. Sneed’s striking arrangement of “All night, all Day.” Mr. Brownlee demonstrated his ringing top notes in “Come by Here, Good Lord,” a variant of the spiritual “Kumbaya.”
The English lineup also included four gorgeously lyrical songs by Ben Moore, part of a collection published in 2006. These selections, set to poems by Yeats and Joyce, included a passionate rendition of “I Would in That Sweet Bosom Be,” the vocal line blending with a richly textured accompaniment.
Mr. Katz played with flair in Ginastera’s “Five Popular Argentine Songs,” particularly in the exuberant “Gato.” Mr. Brownlee lingered expressively on the “Ah!” in “Triste” (“Sad”).
The program began with four Verdi works, including a characterful “Spazzacamino” (“Chimney Sweep”) and a lively “Brindisi” (“A Toast”), a showcase for Mr. Brownlee’s honeyed timbre and elegant vibrato. The two musicians also offered nuanced versions of songs by Poulenc and Joseph Marx, including Poulenc’s “Voyage à Paris” from “Banalités,” and Marx’s “Nocturne,” which features a rhapsodic piano part.
As encores, Mr. Brownlee offered Schubert’s gentle “Jüngling an der Quelle” and a warmly expressive “Mio Tesoro” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”