Baritone Brett Polegato is awfully boyish-looking even in formal wear, but he proved that you're never too young to express longing and regret at a recital presented by the Vocal Arts Society at the French Embassy on Wednesday.
Singing songs by the Finnish composer Toivo Kuula, Polegato created a mood of gloom as unrelieved as the bands of rain that had fallen in Washington throughout the day. Polegato is a fine actor and, slipping into the role of a remorseful lover, conveyed his sorrow across a flawlessly sustained vocal range.
His recital partner, Wendy Nielsen, also sang several autumnal songs, but was charming as she tripped lightly though the comic number "Koenig Baumbart" by Ernst von Dohnanyi. The purity of her nearly vibrato-free soprano was highlighted in performances of several pieces by Francis Poulenc that closed the concert.
The voices of the two singers blended well in duets, but Polegato's solo flights provided more drama. Aside from his spellbinding performance of Kuula, Polegato demonstrated exquisite vocal and emotional control in excerpts from George Butterworth's "A Shropshire Lad," capturing all the piece's nostalgic sadness about "lads that will never be old" going off to their deaths in war.
Pianist Iain Burnside's playing was attentive and never less than certain, whether casting a glissando spell in a pretty piece by Dohnanyi or offering a spare and restrained backdrop to the Butterworth cycle.