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A summer afternoon treat

The Alice Busch Theater
08/12/2011 -  
Harold Arlen: "I've got the world on a string"
William Bolcom: "The Ballad of Black Max", "Over the Piano", "George"
George Gershwin: "I've got a crush on you, sweetie-pie"
David Guion: "Home on the Range"
Jay Gurney: "Brother, can you spare a dime?"
Jimmy van Heusen: "Polka dots and moonbeams"
Frederick Loewe: "C'est moi" and "If ever I should leave you" from Camelot
Ben Moore: "In the dark pine woods"
Cole Porter: "Don't fence me in"
Richard Rodgers: "My Funny Valentine"
Ned Rorem: "Early in the morning"
Gene Sheer: "Jam Tart"
Tom Waits: "The briar and the rose" from The Black Rider

Nathan Gunn (Baritone), Julie Gunn (Piano)

Nathan & Julie Gunn(© Mike Sharkey)

Nathan Gunn made his Glimmerglass debut in 1997 in a production of Iphigénie en Tauride directed by Francesca Zambello (also making her Glimmerglass debut). That production is credited with launching his career, helping put Gluck’s overlooked masterpiece back into the repertoire and even inspiring the birth of the word barihunk.

Ms Zambello now runs the festival and uses her considerable powers of persuasion to convince an established singer to perform (for free) a benefit recital. (Last year it was David Daniels.) This event was not billed as a recital (see title above) and, indeed, it was more a cabaret act (which the Gunns have performed recently at new York City’s Café Carlyle). Mr. Gunn linked the songs with casual remarks, often amusing as when he noted that the loincloth he wore 14 years ago no longer fits.

Many of the songs also appear on Mr Gunns’ 2007 CD Just Before Sunrise. His practiced ease with the numbers gave the event a relaxed (almost-Perry Como-esque) atmosphere.

In keeping with the informal nature of the 70-minute event, there was no written program. This was really only a problem for someone trying to review the performance in any detail. Overall Mr Gunn demonstrated a deft change of mood or tone from piece to piece as, for example, when he made a characterful vignette out of William Bolcom’s "George", where he became a tipsy fellow accounting the amusingly grisly death of a colorful friend. Equally playful was "Jam Tart", a treatment of a whimsical W. H. Auden poem by Gene Sheer.

A program like this is always open to the charge of lowering standards, playing to the lowest common denominator, etc. In a serious recital, most of the pieces would have been relegated to the lightweight encore section. However songs like Ned Rorem’s “Early in the morning” and Ben Moore’s “In the dark pine woods” ( a setting of a James Joyce poem, with a beautiful soft high note on the final word “away”) would fit well into any “serious”, “art song” recital.

As is was, most of the pieces were from what is now referred to as the Great American Songbook, along with selections from Broadway musicals. There was still a place, however, for the Irish song “The Parting Glass”.

The Glimmerglass Festival has long had its own fringe events in the form of recitals by some of their Young Artists performed in small venues in the Cooperstown area. I note that some this season were featuring cabaret-style repertoire, as was artist-in-residence Deborah Voigt in her own cabaret-style program, Voigt Lessons, scripted by Terrence McNally. The two Gunns certainly show how it should be done.

Michael Johnson



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