Baritone Alan Titus has been many places since he gained prominence as the celebrant in Bernstein's "Mass" at the opening of the Kennedy Center. But last night at the end of his Terrace Theater recital that time seemed quite close as he launched into the encore -- the celebrant's wistful hymn, "A Simple Song."
This encore was, in some respects, one of the evening's finest moments. Titus had chosen a program almost staggeringly well-rounded, ranging from Purcell, Bach and Haydn through Schumann, Gounod and Rachmaninoff to a closing American set. He applied himself with knowledge and competence, handling the varied assignments capably. However, he paid a price for this versatility in the loss of interpretive depth.
Too often, particularly during the first half of the recital, Titus gave his audience clearly articulated diction, controlled shifts in dynamic levels, careful changes in vocal weight and color. Coming to terms with the songs technically, he conveyed little sense of their inner life or a particular point of view. The single line or strategic detail upon which a song rested was often ignored or poorly prepared. In Haydn's "She Never Told Her Love," for example, the key to the song rests with the simple repetition of the word "smiling," as the poet marvels at the lady's stoicism in the face of grief. Titus left his listeners uncertain of the mood, failing to find the subtle stress that would throw the repetition into relief.
To move toward a convincing interpretation of Schumann's "Liederkreis, Op. 39," Titus needs to do much more of this kind of detailed thinking than he did for last night's performance. Curiously, his voice at times took on a cold, thin edge, which may have been a mental rather than vocal problem since the timbre of his voice is generally warm and pleasing.
Titus seemed closer to his material in the second half, starting off with a frothy rendering of Gounod's "Mab, la reine des mensonges," which showed his particular flair for the French idiom. He does exceptionally well with this light, rapid style, as an engaging Stephen Foster patter song titled "If You've Only Got a Moustache" confirmed.
Pianist Michael Fardink brought a strong stylistic sense and a wide range of touches to the accompaniment.