Canadian mezzo-soprano Catherine Robbin sang a wide-ranging program with warmth and unflagging intensity in her Washington recital debut Sunday evening at the Phillips Collection. Robbin's fine, rich voice and considerable gifts as a recitalist were evident from the opening selection, Purcell's "The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation." She gave a compelling performance of this vocally and emotionally demanding work.
Four Schubert songs followed, including excellent renditions of "An die Musik" and "Der Musensohn," the latter sung with an unusual but convincing vigor and vocal fullness. Schumann's "Mary Stuart Songs" concluded the first half. Robbins sang with passion and conviction, particularly in the two prayer sections, but was somewhat hampered by a slight edge on some high notes and a lack of clarity in soft passages.
In Debussy's "Chansons de Bilitis," Robbin sang well, but the folkish charm and somber conviction so effective in earlier selections were not quite adequate for the sensuous songs. "The House of Tomorrow" by John Greer, Robbin's accompanist, had its U.S. premiere. The texts come from various sources, including Kahlil Gibran and Robert Louis Stevenson, and fit together loosely into a kind of suite; it was most successful in its more playful and vigorous moments.
The concert concluded with fine performances of five Irish folk songs and an encore by the British composer Thomas Dunhill. The last of the Phillips' season, this concert will be broadcast over WETA-FM (90.9) Monday, June 22, at 10 p.m.