I admit I’m a neophyte when it comes to lieder, or German art songs.
But I just had to attend one of the two recitals of Franz Schubert lieder presented on Sunday by John Wustman and Nathan Gunn at the beautiful and grand Smith Recital Hall on the UI campus.
A friend, who also had her doubts about the art form, and I decided we couldn’t pass up the free evening concert featuring two greats of music.
As she pointed out, Wustman accompanied Pavarotti and was considered the dean of American accompanists during his long and distinguished career.
And Gunn? Well, he’s an opera superstar even though he lives under the local radar in Champaign with his wife, Julie, and their five children. And he's now holding court at Bobby Short's old haunt, the Cafe Carlyle in New York.
So not being exactly lieder-knowledgeable, my friend and I slipped into the back of the recital hall so we could easily slip out if we didn’t like what we heard. We ended up staying for the entire 90-minute evening concert.
During it, Wustman, who with his shock of darkish hair looks younger than 80, and Gunn, now 40, presented "Winterreise," or "Winter Journey," a poetic, bittersweet cycle about a man dealing with love lost while on an arduous, long winter walk.
The text is by Wilhelm Muller (1794-1827), a German poet whose work likely would be less known if Schubert, his contemporary, had not set his poetry to music. On Sunday afternoon at Smith, Wustman and Gunn did the other Schubert cycle featuring Muller’s words, "Die schöne Müllerin."
I missed that because I was finishing my income taxes.
Gunn, of course, sang in German, standing at a music stand and wearing a dark suit, sans tie. He looked so earnest while singing; his resonant baritone filled the hall. He had told me earlier that singing the Schubert cycles is mentally fatiguing, but he didn't appear tired.
My friend and I followed the English translation, by Richard Stokes, in the program. I liked closing my eyes, though, to focus on Wustman’s piano and Gunn’s voice. Both were so evocative.
At the end, the two musicians hugged each other and then received a standing ovation. Following that a reception took place on stage. The concert-goers, including writer Richard Powers, packed the stage; I couldn’t even get near Gunn but at one point I was able to say hi to Wustman and meet his son, Charles, now a pilot for United Airlines.
Both concerts drew good crowds, and I’m glad my friend and I were among the listeners that evening. As I returned home that night I had a nice, satisfied feeling about getting out of the house to hear live classic music, in a beautiful setting, presented by two great artists. And for free!