Lawrence Brownlee: Allegro io son
'Simple but not unintelligent’ is how tenor Lawrence Brownlee describes his L’elisir d’amore character Nemorino, which summarises his approach to other characters represented in ‘Allegro io son – Bel canto Arias’, his return visit to the Kaunas City Symphony under Constantine Orbelian after their blazing Rossini aria collaboration (Delos, 8/14US). The characters are hardly complex but Brownlee’s kind of advocacy opens the door to more emotional substance, expressed through a bel canto manner that sets his recital apart from others.
The selection of Bellini and Donizetti arias is luxurious. The sunny ‘Allegro io son’ from Donizetti’s Rita is an inviting start, while other selections feature secondary soloists such as the able soprano Viktorija Miskunaite, and the well-rehearsed Kaunas State Choir make good, dark-voiced soldiers in ‘Ah! Mes amis, quel jour de fête’ from La fille du régiment. Only occasionally, with ‘Seul sur la terre’ from Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien, does the sequencing flag a bit.
Early in his career, Juan Diego Flórez recorded a number of these arias (Decca, 9/03) with his trademark suave attention to the melodic line. Here, Brownlee makes a more personal claim on this music in ways best illustrated by the disc’s famous ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. He’s appropriately plaintive; but by the aria’s second strophe he significantly ornaments the vocal line in ways that deepen the emotional perspective. He doesn’t deliver the Pavarotti-esque burst of vocal sunshine with the words ‘She loves me’ or milk individual phrases for pathos in the manner of Marcelo Álvarez (Sony Classical, 12/98). But that’s the way of lyric tenors. With his bel canto approach, Brownlee has a cleaner, less elongated vocal line than Álvarez, but takes more time because he’s singing more notes with emotionally complex cadenzas. Where some tenors use specific word-colouring, Brownlee also takes extra time by making expressive points with rubato.
High notes in this Bellini-Donizetti collection tend to shoot up like skyrockets (in contrast to Rossini’s more integrated showmanship), forcing Brownlee into somewhat unfortunate upper-range vocal explosions in Bellini’s ‘A te, o cara’ from I puritani. But his pitch is spot-on. And every so often, such as at the end of Donizetti’s ‘Pour me rapprocher de Marie’, there’s an arresting colouristic turn, reminding you that Brownlee has his own kind of vocal glamour.