Carreras' artistry comes to the fore

Jose Carreras, tenor, Lorenzo Bavaj, accompanist HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall Friday, February 19 EVEN the greatest of tenors have two strikes against them in the Cultural Centre. First, maddeningly erratic acoustics in the hall, where resounding tones can sound remote. Second, a choice of programme which will never satisfy everybody.

Jose Carreras has another liability. Without the commanding presence of a Domingo or the exotic miracle of Pavarotti, he must depend solely on his artistry. Of that, nobody had any doubt last night.

Unlike his last visit here, devoted strictly to Italian lieder, Carreras mixed opera, Neapolitan songs, popular music and his beloved zarzuela Spanish opera.

The mixture was a healthy one. But more important, Carreras gave a far more robust performance than his last visit here.

He rarely went for the top notes (an exception in Bernstein's Maria), his lowest tones were unexceptional. And at times, he bellowed out the climactic phrases.

But for the vast, predominant part of the concert, this was music sung thoughtfully without a hint of vulgarity.

With a splendid accompanist in Lorenzo Bavaj, he sung his beloved Tosti songs with perhaps more lyricism than they deserved, accustoming himself to the erratic hall.

After that, the legendary Carreras was shown in the hushed tones of Una Furtiva Lagrima. The Carreras of Mario Lanza-pop, without any schmaltz came in Be My Love.

But the Carreras of lilt, liveliness and gutsy style came in two songs. First, Verdi's Brindisi, a drinking song.

Second in the Spanish Bella Enamorada. This was Jose Carreras at home.

The zarzuela was not self-consciously intense, it wasn't sung to show his perfect phrasing or instinctive musicianship. Rather, it was Carreras with an ingenuous love, a voice that can still reverberate when necessary, and with the pulsation of a great Iberian heart.