REVIEW: Closing out the 2016-17 Georgetown Concert Series, baritone Nathan Gunn and pianist Julie Gunn offered a little something for everyone.

by Patrick D. McCoy

In years past, the perception of the format for a song cycle perhaps would have been much different than what occurs on the recital circuit currently.  There used to be a sense of formality and structure that while for some may have lended an air of elegance and decorum, also could have been a turn off for others.  The recital presented by baritone Nathan Gunn and his equally gifted wife, pianist Julie Gunn ‘married’ a little bit of both of those schools of thought in a program that was pleasing to the diverse audience at St John’s on Sunday afternoon.  Curated by organist/choirmaster Samuel Carabetta, this recital was the last in the 2016-2017 Georgetown Concert Series.

Gunn entered in a casual grey suit with an open collared shirt with his wife stunningly dressed in black.  Even from the entrance, it was established that the music making was a joint effort, not just the singer and the accompanist.  With his music all before him on an I-Pad, he began his program with four songs by Henry Purcell, arranged by Benjamin Britten.  “Fairest Isle”  found Gunn in fine voice, poised and an intuitive recitalist, connecting with his audience immediately.  Probably the most popular of the four songs was “If Music be the Food of Love.”  Singing at perhaps at a lower tempo than heard by previous singers,  the rich support at the piano by Julie Gunn lended to the luxuriant delivery by her husband. Ending the group was “An Evening Hymn”  which culminated in a joyful ‘Alleluja.’

The program continued songs by Dominick Argento.  “Spring” was executed with such exuberance, an almost perfect reflection of the afternoon, while “Dirge” added a contrast of longing on the text “Come Away Death.”  “Hymn” was marked by an aura of reverence, further enhanced by the rich sonorities brought forth at the piano.  Rounding out the first half of the program were songs by Roger Quilter and Ben Moore.  It was here that the baritone voice really found its home in the resonance of the church sanctuary.  In Ben Moore’s song “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”  there was a feeling of motion, a moving forward on the text  ‘I will arise and go.’  Sung with conviction, there was a feeling of fervor that seemed to hold the audience captive.  A bonus that continued the British Isles theme was the inclusion of Ian Bell’s “Tom of Bedlam” which was filled with repetitive interplay between the voice and piano and eventually long phrases sung elegantly by Mr. Gunn.   “Over the Land is April” by Quilter provided the big ending to the first half of the recital.

Selections from the American Songbook were the subject of the recital’s second half.  Those selections were not printed in the program and were announced from the stage, at times proving to be a distraction, rather than a bonus.  Notably was a beautiful setting of “Wayfaring Stranger” which was a beautiful partnering of the familiar hymn “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.”

Concerts of the 2017-18 include performances by the Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, Etherea Vocal Ensemble, The King’s Singers and Chanticleer.

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