Mezzo-soprano Theodora Hanslowe brought to the National Gallery Sunday night the kind of program that wins competitions. It hit all the high points of art song styles, explored the idioms of five languages and, for the most part, avoided warhorses, although the Brahms group came mighty close.
Hanslowe, who is studying for her artist's diploma at Peabody Conservatory, has a season of opera and oratorio performances under her belt, and it is not hard to figure out why she is in demand. Her voice is smooth and focused, without the heaviness of some mezzo-sopranos, and she uses it with both accuracy and agility. She has an easy, personable performing presence and the requisite powers of concentration to project a lengthy and demanding program true to the end. What is yet to develop is a clear sense of the difference between French and German and English sounds, and the courage to use a greater variety of different kinds of vocal production.
She was at her best, which was very good indeed, in songs by Purcell, a wonderfully coloratura aria from "La Cenerentola" by Rossini and a nice group of Spanish songs set by Obradors, where she used vibrantly broad Spanish diction to project a variety of moods.
The Brahms songs seemed a little pallid and objective. The seven songs of Poulenc's "La courte paille" lacked a sense of true French inflection, and the Schoenberg Op. 2 songs needed greater attention to the sounds of German vowels.
Mark Markham accompanied with a splendid sense of presence and of drama.