Christine Brewer does not play it safe in programming, which means that not every recital by the lauded American singer will be a winner. She is one of the most exciting dramatic sopranos in the music of Wagner and Strauss, but she has excelled in everything from Gluck to contemporary song. Her recital of Iberian and American songs on Thursday night, presented by Vocal Arts D.C. at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (rescheduled from October, when it was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy), was one of the rare misses.
Part of the problem was that Brewer was suffering from pollen allergies, and her voice sounded a little raspy and disconnected between registers. The music on the Iberian half was sometimes disappointing, with the lushly chromatic songs of Catalan composers Federico Mompou and Fernando Obradors as notable exceptions.
Worse, much of it was just not suited to Brewer’s vocal type. Brewer performed all of it with commitment, aided shrewdly by the evocative guitarlike textures in the accompaniment of versatile pianist Craig Rutenberg, who also seemed not in top form and was obviously in some pain, perhaps related to an injury that required him to walk with a cane.
A second half of American songs also had mixed results, with high points reached in a Samuel Barber set, especially the conviction heard in “Bessie Bobtail” and the breezy radiance of “Sure on This Shining Night.” A set of songs by the teenage Aaron Copland showed a precocious compositional voice, with echoes of Debussy in “Night,” but it was also music that did not make Brewer’s voice sound its best.
Brewer’s gregarious charisma was an asset in the concluding cabaret songs by William Bolcom, including a hilarious encore of his “Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise.”
Downey is a freelance writer.