Lawrence Brownlee: "Virtuoso Rossini Arias"
Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Orbelian. Texts and translations. Delos DE 3455
When it comes to bel canto singing, audiences are enjoying a feeding frenzy, especially in New York City, where in one month it was possible to see two Bellini operas (La Sonnambula and I Puritani), as well as Rossini's Cenerentola, with three superb tenors — superstar Juan Diego Flórez; Javier Camarena, the city's new hero; and American Lawrence Brownlee. Of the three, Brownlee is the least flashy, and it's curious that he has chosen Rossini for his first orchestral recital disc, rather than including works by Bellini and Donizetti, whose lyrical expressiveness seems perfectly suited to Brownlee's sweet voice and elegant singing.
Not that Brownlee doesn't nail each of the Rossini arias presented here with Constantine Orbelian and the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra. Brownlee employs his fresh sound with an aristocratic reserve that always serves the musical style. Runs and figuration are perfectly poised (the triplets in the otherwise forgettable aria from L'Occasione Fa il Ladro are alluringly smooth), and he has a way of brightening vowels effectively to achieve immediacy in the declamation (as in the opening of "Ah dov'è il cimento?" from Semiramide). High notes are secure and full, without a hint of strain or nasality (the high D in the Turco in Italia aria is huge), and Brownlee's sense of timing for cadenzas and held notes is well developed. Yet there's a certain sameness about the tracks that is not entirely the tenor's fault; a string of Rossini arias for any one voice type starts to tax the listener's attention.
An excellent musician, Orbelian has proved a strong partner on disc for imaginative singers such as Ewa Pódles´, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Michael Spyres in conventional repertoire. Here, with a fairly straightforward singer in unconventional repertoire, one feels the need for more variety and more pungency from the orchestra, or a conductor from the historical-performance movement who could bring out metrical subtlety and variety. The solo horn details the opening of "O fiamma soave" handsomely, but accompanimental chords from the winds just plod along, like many other overlooked orchestral details. "Ta-dah" chords that energize so many phrases sound indifferent, and the playing overall lacks rhythmic profile. The rum-tee-tum opening of Zelmira's "Terra amica" does little to set up Brownlee's heroic opening statement, and the disappointingly shapeless introduction to the cabaletta is no match for the tenor's athletic vocal leaps and energized virtuosity.
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