Only a brave singer would have chosen the songs that Simon Estes did in the first half of his recital yesterday afternoon at Morgan State University. The bass-baritone began with Mozart's dark concert aria, "Mentre Ti Lascio, O Figlia," followed it with three of Schubert's saddest songs -- "Aufenthalt," "In der Ferne," and "Der Atlas" -- and concluded with Brahms' "Vier Ernste Gasange," perhaps the most somber thing that serious composer ever wrote.
But Estes is a great singer as well as a courageous one. As his material descended to ever more profound depths, he ascended to greater artistic heights. The Mozart was noble in delivery and the melancholic effects in the Schubert songs were carefully gauged.
The singer's sensitivity to nuance was at its best in the Brahms work. Here the composer asks the singer and his pianist to keep to subdued dynamic levels, to move slowly and to hover in the lowest registers. This demands a great deal of a singer's interpretive skills and asks a lot of his ability to support and control his voice. Estes took the listener inside the composer's dark but strangely consoling universe. The singing was remarkable for anyone, particularly for a man in his 54th year. Each of Estes' registers is beautiful and his bottom range particularly glorious.