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record reviews



Published: Sun, April 13, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

Lawrence Brownlee

Album: “Virtuoso Rossini Arias” (Delos)

Grade: A

Juan Diego Florez

Album: “L’Amour” (Decca)

Grade: A

For more than a decade, Peruvian Juan Diego Florez and American Lawrence Brownlee — who is a native of Youngstown — have been the world’s leading bel canto tenors, thrilling audiences with their high notes and technical agility in operas by Rossini, Donizetti and other early 19th-century composers.

Now in their early 40s, they have released new albums that show them in elegant form and offer a chance to savor the differences between the two light-voiced marvels.

Florez’s first new album in four years is a compilation of arias from French opera, ranging from Adrien Boieldieu’s obscure “La Dame blanche” to Offenbach’s still-popular “La Belle Helene.”

Especially noteworthy are three forays into romantic repertory usually associated with bigger voices — two selections from Jules Massenet’s “Werther” and one from Charles Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette.” Though Florez’s sound may be a bit warmer and fuller than in the past and he sings with grace and sensitivity, his voice still seems small for such fare and still bears the penetrating nasal quality that his detractors have always found off-putting. And he clearly has to push the limits of his resources on the climactic high notes.

Brownlees’s album — his first compilation of arias with orchestra — is all Rossini and all splendid. There’s an ardent sweetness to his voice that contrasts strikingly with Florez’s more-astringent sound. And he is no less a technical magician. Note his repeated daring lunges to high C in “Che ascolta” from “Otello,” or the astonishing 16 seconds he holds the final B-flat in a selection from the one-act “L’occasione fa il ladro.”

Constantine Orbelain conducts the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra of Lithuania.

— Mike Silverman, Associated Press

Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey

Album: “Going Back Home” (Chess)

Grade: B-

Wilko Johnson, former guitarist of rabble-rousing 1970s British rockers Dr. Feelgood, is enjoying a bittersweet late- career surge. Johnson’s jagged playing and menacing stare helped give Dr. Feelgood’s bluesy rock an infectious, raucous energy. The band was briefly a sensation and foreshadowed punk’s anarchic spirit.

Then the group imploded and Johnson spent years as a cult hero, cherished by a tight coterie of fans.

Last year, Johnson was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer; vowing to rock until the end, he set out on a farewell tour.

And finally, the world is taking notice. There have been sold-out shows, a slot at this summer’s Glastonbury Festival and now an album with Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who.

Inspired by a shared love of early British rockers such as Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, “Going Back Home” is deliberately rough-edged and retro — even the label, Chess Records, is a heritage brand resurrected for the release. Its 11 tracks include 10 Johnson compositions, from the Feelgood days through his solo career.

The title track sets the tone of robust, rocking R&B. Daltrey growls lustily over Johnson’s choppy riffs, and it’s spiced with lashings of dirty harmonica from Steve Weston and galumphing piano from ex-Style Council keyboardist Mick Talbot.

Songs such as “Keep it Out of Sight” and “All Through the City” have a swaggering energy and raw yearning.

Jill Lawless, Associated Press

CHRISTINA PERRI

Album: “Head or Heart” (Atlantic)

Grade: B

Perri has had a charmed career, with TV and movie exposure giving extraordinary boosts to her early singles “Jar of Hearts” and “A Thousand Years.” It’s the honest, vulnerable timbre of her voice that makes Perri’s songs so cinematically suited and turns her second album into a fetching tone poem. Whether on the simple, almost Celtic plaint of “Trust,” the bouncy pop duet “Be My Forever” with Ed Sheeran, or the satisfyingly anthemic “I Don’t Wanna Break,” Perri sings with stirring emotional sincerity.

— David Hiltbrand, Philadelphia Inquirer


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