Album review: Lawrence Brownlee

From Time Out New York, March 24 2014

Lawrence Brownlee’s international career began at the top, with Il barbiere di Siviglia at Milan’s La Scala. And as his stock among the world’s bel canto elect has continued to rise—on April 17 he returns to the Met for Bellini’s I puritani—Rossini’s demanding heroes, barely castable not so long ago, remain his principal calling card.

This overdue recital CD presents eight numbers from as many works. If Le comte Ory and La donna del lago hardly still count among “the old master’s most rarely performed operas,” as the CD booklet claims, the program still thoughtfully avoids hoary chestnuts from BarbiereCenerentola and Italiana in Algeri.

Terrific though Brownlee is in those roles, it’s nice for collectors to have worthy accounts of Zelmira and L’occasione fa il ladro as well. In the latter opera’s “D’ogni più sacro impegno,” Brownlee takes a long, leisurely weekend on his shining last high note. His breath control, impressive throughout, is wedded to dazzling agility and a tone admirers find more ingratiating than that of his better-known peer Juan Diego Flórez.

In just one example, Brownlee starts the first track (from La gazza ladra) with a melting messa di voce ornament, throws in a high D in recitative and dispatches the aria’s demanding passagework like child’s play. Every cut on the disc supplies similarly stylish thrills.

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