The narrators of songs can be such complainers. Luca Pisaroni’s recital Friday night, presented by Vocal Arts D.C. at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, brought together a program of songs, half in Italian and half in German and all dramatic. The nature of the music can make the words seem more or less sincere, but the emotional impact is always heightened.
Pisaroni, an Italian bass-baritone, has an easy onstage charm, which has served him well in operatic roles, recently at the Santa Fe and the Metropolitan operas, especially comic ones and snarling villains. His voice, which makes a fluid, uniform sound across a broad range, was not in optimal shape this evening, some coughing and nose-blowing offering an explanation for the occasional raspiness, especially at the bottom and top of the voice. It is not really a mellifluous voice, the vibrato slightly too nervous to avoid standing out, but Pisaroni’s musicianship and likability make up for that.
In this program, he was helped by the superlative playing of pianist Wolfram Rieger, who gave most of the vivid storytelling to the performance, shivering tremolos in Beethoven’s “In questa tomba oscura,” rushing waves in Brahms’s “Verzagen” and whorls of smoke in Liszt’s “Die drei Zigeuner.” Most of these songs had the feel of mini-arias, either in the pleasing Italianate style of Paisiello, imitated by Beethoven and Johann Friedrich Reichardt, the latter to sonnets and canzone by Petrarch, or of the overwrought Germanic variety in a second half of Liszt songs. The Liszt set proved the highlight, and it was capped with two encores by the same composer, “Im Rhein” (set to a text by Heinrich Heine) and “O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst,” which Liszt reworked as his “Liebesträume No. 3” for piano.
Downey is a freelance writer.