Patricia Parker, a soprano from New York City, sang with verve a solid program of works by Handel, Mozart, Barber, Debussy and Richard Strauss last night in the East Garden Court of the National Gallery of Art. She was accompanied by Gerald Brown, an able pianist who acquitted himself well in a variety of styles.

Parker's throaty, resonant voice is not especially large, but it is expressive and controlled. Her singing veered toward melodrama (noticeably during the three arias); mostly it was soulful, and sometimes inspired. The performance ran hot and cold. Parker's range and sensibilities were stymied by studied, stiff interpretations in the first half, lapsing into occasional histrionics.

The recital opened with Handel's "Vadoro pupille" from "Giulio Cesare" and "Va godendo" from "Serse." Parker's performance, while lovely, was oddly unaffecting. The Mozart aria -- "Vado, ma dove?" -- was properly heart-rending.

The "Hermit Songs" by Barber, 10 rather moody vignettes with titles such as "Crucifixion," "Promiscuity" and "The Monk and the Cat," were rewarding listening experiences, strong collaborative efforts that were a harbinger of the all-too-short, but excellent, second half.

Debussy's "Proses Lyriques" and four Strauss songs, despite some technical flaws, were distinguished showcases for both musicians. Brown successfully juggled the demands of composer and singer, embellishing Parker's delivery with myriad colors and textures.

Parker proved herself a first-rate Strauss singer. Her phrasing was magnificent, the accompaniment sensitive, its impact stunning.