In a program of songs highlighting a broad vary of American compositional voices — Black, homosexual, feminine, previous, new — the baritone Justin Austin confirmed off a mighty lyric voice with dramatic aptitude at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan on Tuesday night.
Austin’s tone is deep and earthy, with a firmly stitched timbre that withstands some high-octane singing. At the Armory, he discovered operatic climaxes in most songs — his excessive notes had been sturdy, shattering, indefatigable. And as he warmed up, his breathy delicate singing started to convey feeling too, although there was little colour in his remedy of texts. (Suffering from allergy symptoms, he turned upstage to blow his nostril between most songs.)
This has been a busy time in New York for Austin. Earlier this yr, he sang the lead function of the tough laborer George in Ricky Ian Gordon’s opera “Intimate Apparel” at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, the place his massive, hard-edge sound overwhelmed the microphone he didn’t want. In May, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Marcellus in Brett Dean’s “Hamlet,” projecting into that capacious home with youthful vigor.
But in the intimate recital setting of the Board of Officers Room at the Armory, his built-for-power voice tended to run roughshod over poetry, as in the opening group of 9 Gordon settings of poems by Langston Hughes. Gordon’s dashing, exuberant melodies swimsuit a supple voice that soars, however Austin’s swings like a hammer. At instances it labored: He rode a path to glory in the punishing conclusion of “Harlem Night Song,” with its ecstatic collection of excessive notes.
He linked extra profoundly with Hughes cycles by the Black composers Margaret Bonds (“Three Dream Portraits”) and Robert Owens (“Mortal Storm”). Bonds’s “Minstrel Man,” a few performer whose humanity is invisible to his viewers, stirred a wry, subversive spirit in Austin. In “Dream Variation,” his voice flowed naturally, and “I, Too” was defiant — the sound of somebody now not keen to attend for his second in the solar when he has the energy to grab it for himself.
There are instances when Owens’s “Mortal Storm,” which featured the night’s most pessimistic poems, appears like a dense piano discount of an opera rating. “Jaime” is a 40-second tempest, and “Faithful One” is thick with bass chords. The pounding triplets of “Genius Child” recall Schubert’s “Erlkönig,” each of them harrowing fantasies of a murdered boy. It’s not a cycle for the faint of voice, and Austin excelled in it, even discovering rhythmic playfulness and a contact of sensual romance. “Genius Child” ended with a satan’s experience into the bracing line “Kill him — and let his soul run wild!”
Then, in a breath-catching flip, got here Aaron Copland’s lullaby to a crying child, “The Little Horses,” sung in hushed, consoling tones. Its easy starlight impressed the prettiest enjoying of the evening from the pianist Howard Watkins, who typically made this system’s wide-ranging kinds sound homogeneous and unsubtle.
Toward the top, Austin sang spirituals and gospel with an unforced expressivity that sustained every bit’s temper. His single encore, “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me,” was delivered a cappella. Without a piano at his again, he rose to the event. There had been highs and lows, thunder and cries — and sweetness, too.
Performed Tuesday at the Armory, Manhattan; armoryonpark.org.