Baritone Paul Rowe presented a recital in conjunction with the UW-Madison German department to celebrate the 50th Wisconsin Workshop, and to honor two senior emeriti of the UW German program, Professor Jost Hermand and Professor Klaus Berghahn. Joined by tenor Wesley Dunnagan and pianists Benjamin Liupaogo and Thomas Kasdorf, the program featured works of prominent German poets Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine, with settings of their works by Mendelssohn, Liszt, Schubert, and both Robert and Clara Schumann. Using the poetry of these two influential and prolific writers did not, as Paul Rowe confirmed early in the evening, limit the programming options. Highlights of the evening included Schubert’s thrilling “Erlkönig” and Schumann’s ever-popular song cycle Dichterliebe.
Mr. Dunnagan performed with bright and energized sound throughout the evening that resonated well in the performing space, allowing each word to be heard clearly. That clear diction, however, came across in an almost Italianate pronunciation of the German text. It would have aided in the expression to hear Mr. Dunnagan revel more in the expressive consonants of the German language. In addition, there was a lack in variation to the color of his tone, resulting in less of an exploration of the depth and breadth of variety in the texts he sang. For instance, in Schubert’s “Rastlose Liebe,” Mr. Dunnagan’s bright tone varied almost not at all, providing little insight to the tumultuous emotions explored in the text and emphasized by the running accompaniment, played expressively by pianist Benjamin Liupaogo. This was paired with an expression that conveyed a slight interest, but not a true connection to the piece.
Mr. Rowe was strong and steady throughout the evening. In “Nähe des Geliebtsen,” by Schubert, Mr. Rowe and Mr. Kasdorf beautifully unified the varied dynamics and phrasing to capture the sensory exploration of the speaker’s longing for their beloved. Both singer and pianist possessed the virtuosic skill demanded of both voice and piano by Liszt in his setting of “Lorelei,” which required the performers to explore the extremes of range and dynamic expression. In the demanding Dichterliebe, Rowe sang with a warm and inviting tone and impeccable German, using the nuance of the language to expressively convey Heine’s tale of poetic love. In “Erlkönig,” Goethe’s four distinct characters were each given a voice through effective use of vocal color and alterations to the legato of the line, giving each their own purpose in the story and driving the piece to it’s heart-breaking conclusion.
During the duets, “Ich wollt meine Lieb’ ergösse sich” and “Abendlied,” both by Mendelssohn, the singers’ voices complemented the other nicely, though Mr. Dunnagan did overpower Mr. Rowe at a few points. While in the second duet the balance was a bit better, the pair seemed to be telling different stories based on their body and facial expressions. Mr. Rowe looked serene and reflective, while Mr. Dunnagan appeared a bit stiff and disengaged at times.
The audience was very receptive throughout the evening, even to the point of applauding after each individual piece in the first half of the night. While not precisely recital ettiquette, their enthusiasm demonstrated a wonderful appreciation for the artistry presented, and they ended the evening with a rousing series of curtain calls for the four artists.