Monday, September 25, 2006

Get your tickets for the Gunn show

This is the second review written for my critical writing class, coming in at 403 words... Enjoy!

The Cornell Concert Series opened its 2006/07 season Saturday night with a recital by singer Nathan Gunn and his wife, pianist Julie Gunn, in Cornell’s newly renovated Bailey Hall.

Resident hunk of today’s opera world, Gunn, 35, is known and loved as much for his dashing good looks and rippling abs as for his rich, smooth baritone. Concertgoers witnessed only the latter as Gunn, fully clothed in a three-piece tuxedo, offered a program of German and American art song to celebrate the hall’s reopening.

A specialist in Schubert lieder during college, Gunn demonstrated his intimate knowledge of the genre through shrewd programming and delicately nuanced, lyrical interpretations. But the latter threw into sharp relief a jarring disconnect between Gunn’s vocal and physical manifestations of emotion. The passion present in both the texts and Gunn’s vocal treatment never crossed the threshold into the realm of visually observable expression.

Instead, Gunn shared little more with the audience than the mechanics of singing. There was an apparent and disappointing flippancy to Gunn’s performance, as he turned to watch his wife play, slipped in and out of character within a song, and conducted cadences with his head. Were it not for the formalwear and the 1,324-seat house, nearly half-full, you would have thought you were sitting in on one of the couples’ coaching sessions at home in Champaign, Ill.

Gunn’s lack of focus seeped into the second half of the program. This part, more casual than the first, comprised songs by American composers Benjamin Moore, who was in the audience, Charles Ives, Tom Waits, and traditional tunes arranged by Julie Gunn.

Nathan Gunn’s impeccably balanced tone, produced with seeming little effort, carried the evening. His best moments came during shorter pieces, such as Schubert’s “Romanze” and “Nachtviolen,” Moore’s “In the dark pinewood,” and Ives’ “Two little flowers (and dedicated to them).” The more lengthy selections suffered as Gunn’s attention dwindled toward the end of each.

Julie Gunn, however, played with elegant sensitivity throughout, doing her part to keep the songs aloft with expressive accompaniment.

Both artists are immensely likeable and capable, possessing a certain magnetism. You have to wonder where they find the time, with five young children at home, to continue to cultivate their formidable talents.

Saturday’s recital felt more like a warmup than a performance. Assuming this was an exception rather than the rule, Gunn is an artist you’ll want to see and hear again.

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