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Classical Album of the Week: Lawrence Brownlee Sings Spiritual Sketches

February 17, 2020. Acclaimed by The Guardian as "one of the world's leading bel canto stars," tenor Lawrence Brownlee brings his extraordinary power, range and depth of expression to the great tradition of spirituals in our album of the week, Spiritual Sketches

In Spiritual Sketches, you will hear distinctive versions of familiar spirituals with elements of opera, jazz, ragtime, and art song.

After growing up in Ohio, singing Gospel music with his family in church, tenor Lawrence Brownlee became internationally renowned for performances in operas by Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini. Familiar to Philadelphia audiences, he sang the role of Charlie Parker in Yardbird with Opera Philadelphia, where he was appointed artistic advisor in 2017.  

Brownlee performed three of the spirituals on this album on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert in 2013, when he explained that "All Night, All Day" has particular personal resonance for him. During his appearance, he referred to the song as "Caleb's Song," honoring his young son, who had recently been diagnosed with autism. 

In Spiritual Sketches, he and accompanist and arranger Damien Sneed render distinctive versions of familiar spirituals, with elements of opera, jazz, ragtime and art song.

Track List

1. There is a Balm in Gilead 

2. Everytime I Feel the Spirit

3. Deep River

4. Sinner Please Don't Let This Harvest Pass

5. Come By Here Good Lord

6. Here's One

7.  Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

8. Soon I Will Be Done

9. All Night, All Day

10. Down by the Riverside

Expressing every emotion from heartbreak to joy, Brownlee sings with passion and authenticity—from the soulful "There is a Balm in Gilead," and "Deep River"

...to the Ragtime-infused "Come By Here, Good Lord"

And from the poignant "All Day, All Night" to the energetic swing of "Down by the Riverside."

Sneed's arrangements are varied and engaging, and Brownlee uses his rich tone and full range, frequently taking us to the thrilling heights of his upper register. 

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.