The principal reason to attend Nathan Gunn's Sunday afternoon recital at Shriver Hall, it appears, was to luxuriate in the sound of the American baritone's voice. There was little to challenge him in the programming, the same selection of Mozart, Schubert, and American songs that the duo presented at the Châteauville Foundation last October and will perform later this spring at Carnegie Hall (April 15). It is at least in part a promotion for Gunn's latest solo CD, a tepid mishmash of American songs and crossover nonsense released this summer. Gunn gave indications on stage that he was recovering from a cold of some kind, but mostly he appeared a little bored. Nathan Gunn, it seems, is a creature of the stage, where the dramatic interaction brings out a much more vivacious side of his persona.
Nathan Gunn, Just Before Sunrise (released August 7, 2007)
The two Papageno selections from The Magic Flute, one of Gunn's most celebrated roles (in Julie Taymor's production for the Met), were sung without artifice. While that pleasing candor makes Gunn so appealing on stage, little of the humor and child-like silliness of the bird-catcher was on display. A Schubert set seemed over-concentrated with slow, dreamy songs, which may have been a concession to Gunn's collaborative artist, his wife, Julie Jordan Gunn. The one song with a challenging accompaniment, Im Walde, was taken at a moderate tempo and had little of the drama it needed, from either pianist or singer. (Husband and wife were both recently appointed as professors of music at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.)
The second half was devoted to American songs of many different stripes, beginning with a set of saccharine songs by Benjamin Moore (b. 1960). In the Dark Pine-Wood featured one of the best examples of Gunn's superlative high pianissimo, on the final phrase of the song ("Sweet love, away"). The only challenge of the evening was a set of Ives songs, with some thorny dissonance to clear the treacle out of my ears. The effect of hearing Gunn's suave baritone interpret the songs of the, um, idiosyncratic performer Tom Waits was odd, akin to hearing, one can only imagine, Anne Schwanewilms sing a set of Bob Dylan. The recital concluded -- not with a bang but a whimper -- with Julie Gunn's arrangements of three American traditional songs. They were pretty enough, simple but with some spicy dissonance to create interest. It was just fine to spend a couple hours listening to Nathan Gunn's mellifluous voice, but it was hard not to wish for something that was more of a stretch.
Tim Smith, Nathan Gunn Recital (Baltimore Sun, January 15)
Nathan Gunn at Cornell (Whimsical, yet relevant, September 25, 2006)
The next concert at Shriver Hall features cellist Alban Gerhardt and pianist Cecile Licad, in sonatas by Beethoven and Chopin.