"Sounds of Portugal" is the alluring title of a four-part concert series at the Corcoran Gallery of Art that highlights its current exhibition, "At the Edge: A Portuguese Futurist, Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso." The series's name prompts images of melodies awash in the pastels of centuries-old ceramic tiles, sun-filled landscapes pointing inevitably to the sea, and palace facades with rounded traces of ancient Moorish embellishments.
Tuesday night such visions quickly vanished, for--aside from the baritone Joao Lourenco--there were few signs of Portugal. Instead, the music presented was French (Jacques lbert), Spanish (Ernesto Halffter) and English (Gerald Finzi). The evening also included two "Argentinian Songs" (by an unidentified Carlos Guastavino). The single exception was Halffter's settings of Portuguese texts.
Lourenco, accompanied dutifully by American pianist Nicolas Shumway (both teach at the University of Texas, Austin), has a baritone voice bordering on tenor resonance, though his fortes tend to sound strained. He has a suave way of incorporating darkly tinted Arab-Iberian ornamentation into the melodic mainstream of a song--as in Ibert's "Chansons de Don Quichotte."
Ironically, the baritone fared best with the English of Finzi's "Earth, Air and Rain," songs cast in emotionally contrasting mind-sets and delivered with luster, warmth or martial assertiveness as the situation demanded.