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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Virtuoso Rossini Arias
Vieni fra queste braccia (from La Gazza ladra)
Que les destins prospères (from Le Comte Ory)
D'ogni più sacro impegno (from L'Occasione fa il ladro)
Che ascolto (from Otello)
Ah dovè il cimento (from Semiramide)
Tu seconda il mio disegno (from Il Turco in Italia)
O fiamma soave (from La Donna del Lago)
Terra amica (from Zelmira)
Laurence Brownlee (tenor)
Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
rec. Kaunas Philharmonic, Lithuania, 1-5 April 2013
DELOS DE3455 [54:32]

This is Lawrence Brownlee’s first recital with orchestra, and this new kid on the bel canto block uses it to show us just how good he is when he is on his home turf. The results are thrilling. While we might lament the current lack of decent Verdi singers, we should count ourselves lucky to live in an era which has probably seen more first rate bel canto singers than at any time since Rossini’s own death, and Brownlee is one of the current superstars. No-one who has seen his Rossini DVDs from the Metropolitan Opera — or heard his stunning Puritani broadcast — can fail to be thrilled by his technique and sheer vocal presence.
 
The voice itself is full, rich and remarkably supple. He crests the high notes with thrilling ease and Rossini’s endless runs of semiquavers are articulated with razor-sharp accuracy. The chief comparison is surely that of Juan Diego Flórez, but Brownlee’s voice is more hearty than the Peruvian’s. Flórez makes a virtue of his athleticism but also his lightness, nimbly leaping from high note to high note without breaking a sweat, though sometimes the sheer brightness of his tone can be so relentless as to feel like being caught in the headlights. Brownlee, on the other hand, has a stronger chest voice with more heft to his singing, and I can fully imagine him in heavier repertoire. Which you prefer will mostly be a matter of taste: most bel canto fans will rejoice that we are blessed enough to have both.
 
One of the problems with a recital like this, though, is that a lot of the material is rather similar in terms of structure and technique: a slow opening section followed by a faster cabaletta. The Gazza Ladra aria sets this up, and it is true that the recital is something of a required taste to take in all in one sitting. Consequently, it is only that lack of variety that prevents me from awarding this a Recording of the Month. However, when you are reduced to complaining about that it’s a sign of how little there is to complain about, and there is enough to sit back and wallow in the sheer luxury of Brownlee’s voice. There is the tiniest touch of comedy in the Comte Ory aria, and the tirade of runs at the end of D'ogni più sacro impegno is exhilarating, as is the endless note he pings out to finish the aria. There is drama in Rodrigo’s aria from Otello and silky smoothness — offset by some dazzling runs — in the king’s aria from La Donna del Lago. Idreno’s arias from Semiramide tend merely to hold up the action, hence they are often cut, and that is why is what makes them excellent material for a recital disc like this. Ilo’s homecoming aria from Zelmira marks not just a conclusion but a culmination for the disc, exciting in the scale of its music and thrilling in the multifaceted performance that Brownlee gives it.
 
The accompaniments from the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and the conducting of Constantine Orbelian are perfectly acceptable without being particularly striking, and they clearly take a back seat to their star although the horn obbligato in the Donna del Lago aria sounds very good.
 
Recorded sound is first rate, and the booklet contains contextual notes about each opera, together with texts and translations, though these are provided in sequence rather than in parallel. Sit back and enjoy.
 
Simon Thompson