The first Rosenblatt Recital of the new series saw American tenor Lawrence Brownlee performing songs and arias by Verdi, Poulenc, Moore, Mozart and Rossini. The new venue for the Rosenblatt Recital series, the Wigmore Hall, was packed, all looking forward to the big start to the new season. It was nice to see both the Wigmore Hall and the Rosenblatt regulars in attendance, with a few famous musicians in the audience as well (hello Elizabeth Llewellyn!).
The program began with four of Verdi’s Sei Romanze, the most buoyant of which, Lo spazzacamino, was a humourous tale about a chimney sweep. Brownlee’s spirited performance made this stand out from the rest of the Sei Romanze. After this Italian introduction, Brownlee treated us to some French songs by Poulenc. The beautiful melody of the song “C” sat nicely with Brownlee’s warm voice, while the touching and melancholic Bleuet created a palpable atmosphere in the hall.
Ben Moore’s four American art-songs were, for me, the highlight of the first half of the Recital. Brownlee really got under the skin of the songs, and his ability to bring in a "musical theatre" sound to his vocal production gave a sense of sincerity to the pieces which would have been lacking had they been given a wholly operatic treatment. Both “I would in that sweet bosom be” and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” had Brownlee reaching into the audience, drawing us in with his emotional performance.
The second half of the recital was dominated by Rossini, with one stunning piece of Mozart. “Un aura amorosa” from Così fan tutte was a revelation. Brownlee’s voice was perfect for the aria, his performance a vibrant, sensual outpouring of emotion. The four Rossini arias provided the fireworks for the evening. The terrifyingly athletic “Ah, dov’è il cimento” from Semiramide saw Brownlee vaulting to C5 several times; perform manifold lines of hellish coloratura; and throw in a few plunges of a 10th down to C3. How do you top that? Well you sing Umberto’s Cavatina “O fiamma soave” from La donna del lago, of course! Brownlee gave us more cascading torrents of semi- and demi-semiquavers, perfect in pitch, solid and well supported in delivery.
For me, though, the highlight of the evening was the final aria, “Terra amica, ove respire” from Zelmira. Starting on G4, and reaching C5 in the first five bars, “Terra amica” is definitely not for the ill-prepared! And with 5 D5’s, well, Brownlee can now be crowned the “King of the High D’s”! Brownlee’s encore was a beautiful rendition of the traditional spiritual Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Again, the warmth of Brownlee’s voice, so unexpected in a leggiero tenor, and his story-telling ability, shone through.
In his pre-concert interview with the Rosenblatt Team, Brownlee said that he hopes “to sing more Mozart. (Ferrando, Belmonte, Tito - perhaps a bit later).” I for one would be very happy to see this! A plea: how about taking on Mitradite? “Vado incontro” would be a pleasure to hear in the hands of such a professional, vocally athletic and engaging singer.