Performing Arts

Review: Lawrence Brownlee at Cliburn at the Kimbell

Lawrence Brownlee
Lawrence Brownlee The Cliburn

The latest Cliburn at the Kimbell program on Thursday night strayed a little from historical patterns. The focus this time was on the tenor voice, not the piano, though the latter instrument was not ignored.

The performers were tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a considerable artist with an impressive reputation, and pianist Kevin Murphy, his musical partner for the evening.

The venue was the Renzo Piano Pavilion of the Kimbell. There were a considerable number of opera buffs attending, as well as Cliburn regulars; the event was sold out.

The program was highly varied, with music of Mozart, Joseph Marx, Liszt, Ginastera, Ben Moore and Damien Sneed. The languages were Italian, German, Spanish and English.

Brownlee has an agile voice well suited to the bel canto repertoire. It is mostly pleasant throughout his vocal range, except that the high notes — while impressively reached and securely produced — are a little grating to my ears. He reminded me a bit of Alfredo Kraus, whom you could admire when he hit the highs even if you grimaced a bit.

This was particularly true in the first half of the program. After intermission, Brownlee seemed to hit his stride, beginning with a captivating group of Spanish songs by Ginastera that were filled with personality both as works of art and in Brownlee’s interpretation of them.

Moore’s setting of poems by Yeats and Joyce was highly appealing, with Brownlee particularly impressive in his command of sung English — no printed texts were needed even though they were provided (and the lights were left up so that they could be read!).

The emotional high point of the evening came with Sneed’s arrangements of Negro spirituals. Brownlee was dazzling here, and the arrangements were highly original — especially the jazzy piano accompaniment to Every time I Feel the Spirit. This was a surprise, and it worked beautifully.