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Larmore Offers Too Much in Recital

November 12, 1996|DANIEL CARIAGA

A recital is not a cabaret--it need not be motley and it must not be frenzied.

Jennifer Larmore--media darling in the latest crop of low-voiced American divas--erred on the side of more-is-too-much at her West Coast debut recital Sunday afternoon at Veterans Wadsworth Theater in Westwood. What she sang best--florid, quick-note showpieces by Mozart and Handel--confirmed Larmore's place as royalty in the realm of roulades. But it takes more than acrobatics to satisfy a recital-goer; it requires regular infusions of repose and simplicity.

The singer's total program, which read like a brief anthology rather than an integrated whole agenda, tried to offer too much, like a large, slapdash buffet uninformed by genuine variety. Here was Purcell, Faure, Gounod, a mini-survey of American composers and, finally, three Spanish writers. In all this plenty, one could still feel undernourished.

Larmore's vocalism proved capable but not multicolored, her high notes unfocused, the sustained ones sometimes fuzzy. While the voice is perfectly acceptable--and Wadsworth's unatmospheric acoustics added nothing in lustrousness--it remains undistinctive in timbre and short on beauty of sound.

One fulfilling moment of pure musical poise in an afternoon of broad visual gestures and fearsome mugging was Gounod's wondrous "L'absent," which the mezzo from Atlanta sang simply and poignantly and without added movement.

Most of the rest of the performance suffered from distractions of the eye and little balm for the ear. The American group, art songs and folk-song arrangements by such worthies as Charles Naginski (misspelled in the program), Jake Heggie, Aaron Copland, John Jacob Niles and Robert Abramson, was a pure kiss-off. How about, instead, five substantial songs by Lee Hoiby, or a revival of a set of Samuel Barber's masterpieces?

Assisting Larmore with often-flying fingers and regular vertical leaps, French pianist Antoine Palloc competed with his own musical astuteness; he is clearly more legitimate in the hearing than in the watching.

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