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Christine Brewer, A Superior Soprano

Friday, February 18, 2005; Page C04

The American soprano Christine Brewer embraces polar opposites. Her attractive Wednesday evening recital at the National Museum of Women in the Arts underscored that much of Brewer's artistry is about making fundamentally different elements click. Brewer posed serious German art songs with lighter American-inspired cabaret works, and, in song after song, power paired with tenderness, color and beauty.

The fiery opening account of Richard Wagner's "Wesendonck-Lieder" showed why Brewer has achieved such worldwide success in the composer's operas. In the wistful "Dreams" or the more declamatory "Be Quiet!" her broad yet controlled midrange leapt up gracefully to the higher registers, displaying a marvelously focused and enduring top. This accurate intonation, along with her special way of seasoning any musical line, came in handy for the lyrical songs of Richard Strauss, which flashed cinematically from a sincere lullaby to an over-the-top obsessive song.

Moving to the realm of melodrama, Brewer skillfully negotiated Benjamin Britten's "Cabaret Songs." In this exaggerated, sometimes humorous montage of urgency, disillusionment and farewell, the soprano's voice took on a dusky and sometimes almost sultry air. Brewer gave similarly snappy readings of three songs of Harold Arlen, including the famous "Come Rain or Come Shine." To close things out, the soprano vibrantly dappled the flowing lyrics of four American songs, including Samuel Barber's delicate "Rain Has Fallen." Throughout, Craig Rutenberg was Brewer's intelligent and highly musical accompanist.

-- Daniel Ginsberg


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