Baritone Nathan Gunn, accompanied by his wife, Julie Gunn and the Pacifica Quartet, took center stage at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall last night in a concert of English art songs ranging from late 19th century to modern day. With new arrangements by Mr. And Mrs. Gunn, and a world premier by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon, the evening proved to be more than the average night of voice and music.
Rare is the artist who posses a rich purity of tone with a dark brooding underbelly, yet is also able to flex a smooth, crystal clear resonance all at the same time. Nathan Gunn is such an artist. And never was this fact more clear than during his most recent New York recital.
In the first act, Mr. Gunn sang George Butterworth’s “Loveliest of trees.” Any and every student of voice knows this song, yet this setting is one that truly allows the text to shine through, rather than the music itself. The text throughout was interpreted with Mr. Gunn’s crisp, clear diction. Sadly, a feat rarely accomplished by native English singers.
Mr. Gunn’s best work came in Butterworth’s “Is my team ploughin.” A deeply reflective call-and-response piece that held the audience in rapt silence. In this piece, both Mr. and Mrs. Gunn shared with us a story (the interutation of which I leave to the listener), and allowed us to truly connect with one another.
The second act began with some playful pieces by Charles Ives. Notably his “Circus Band” which Mr. Gunn was able to make real comedy of.
This was followed by Paul Bowles' Blue Mountain Ballads. Each of the four pieces showcased Mr. Gunn’s ability to tell a story in song. I liken him to James Cagney in that his philosophy of acting was to plant your feet and tell the truth. That is exactly what Mr. Gunn did with this set. His is exactly the kind of voice one wants to hear sing these songs.
The final piece was Jennifer Higdon’s Dooryard Bloom. The text came from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last by the Dooryard Bloom’d” written shortly after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. This piece was originally written for baritone and full orchestra, but this was the world premier of the more scaled-down version. It was in this piece where the Pacifica Quartet was able to strut their stuff and be noticed. They ebbed and flowed as one billowing musical unit. Heaving and keening together in Hidgon’s darkly toned score. She purposefully wrote this piece to ask many questions musically. And that is exactly what she accomplished. One is free to answer these questions, but, at least according to Ms. Higdon, there is no right or wrong answer.
The piece was so dark, in fact, that they felt the need to end the concert with a warm Irish musical send off.
On the eve of April 22, 2013, American baritone Nathan Gunn proclaimed that the re-scheduled concert with his wife at the piano, and Pacifica Quartet, was 5 years in the making. 5 years is far too long to have to wait for these forces to regroup on any stage. It is this examiners wish that the New York concert-going public, indeed any public, not have to wait that long to hear them make their beautiful music together again.
For more information about Nathan Gunn, click here.
For more information about Pacifica Quartet, click here.
For more information about Carnegie Hall, click here.