Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Dong Jun Wang (baritone) James Baillieu (piano)

Richard Lewis / Jean Shanks Award Prize Winner’s Recital.
Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music London. 25 September 2007

Chinese baritone Dong Jun Wang won the prestigious Richard Lewis /Jean Shanks Award at the Royal Academy of Music in 2006, which enabled him to continue his postgraduate studies under Glenville Hargreaves and become a member of Royal Academy Opera, for whom he has already appeared in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta

This recital took in a broad range of repertoire and languages. Whilst this allows a singer to show his versatility, care must be taken in programming to avoid diluting the vocal and interpretive strengths at his disposal through the inclusion of choices that do not do the artist full justice. Both Handel’s “Arm, arm ye brave” (Judas Maccabaeus) and Gluck’s  “O del mio dolce ardor” (Paride ed Elena) proved useful in fully warming up the voice, even if linguistic fluency did not come quite so readily. The Gluck was the more effective for Dong Jun Wang’s keenly felt employment of a legato line in the ardour-filled aria. Mozart’s “Hai giá vinta la causa” (Le nozze de Figaro) was given with greater facial expression and involvement that started to get a little underneath the skin of Count Almaviva’s character.

Quite a contrast was to be had with the jump to Ravel’s Don Quichotte á Dulcinée, sung with a creditable accent.  Here, as elsewhere in the programme, Dong Jun Wang’s interpretation was complemented by the nuanced touch of James Baillieu’s accompaniment. Although the “Chanson épique” allowed Dong Jun Wang to fully use the resonant top range of his voice, the partnership between pianist and singer was best displayed in “Chanson à boire”. Two further repertoire leaps were made in the first half: to Schubert and then Tchaikovsky. “Der Doppelganger” is a tough challenge for any artist, such are its demands for vocal sureness combined with interpretation that must convey the sensation of terror at the second it dawns in the singer’s mind. In this, and “Der Atlas”, which followed both singer and pianist gave an indication of avenues they could continue to pursue, though at present the lieder are works in progress. Tchaikovsky’s “Don Juan’s Serenade” was much more Dong Jun Wang’s kind of piece: richly dramatic, he savoured the Russian text and showed that he could be a baritone to serve this repertoire well in the future.

It was perhaps a missed opportunity, given his careful and considered stage preparation hitherto in the concert, that Rossini’s “Largo al factotum” did not avail itself of the possibility for off-stage singing at the start of the second half to increase the impact of his entrance. That said the delivery was tasteful and mindful of textual details, although James Baillieu rather had the upper hand with wit in this performance. Bellini’s “Or dove fuggo io mai” from I Puritani showed the care of both performers in establishing care for bel canto scale and line. A strong upper range from Dong Jun Wang was now in evidence, and to fine effect too.

The distinct contrast made by two of A Tang’s Chinese songs helped focus things vocally more in a mood of solitude, in which respect Dong Jun Wang’s expressive facial gestures also proved beneficial. Verdi’s “O Carlo, ascolta” from Don Carlo closed the programme with an assured account of the recitative. That the aria grew from in terms of scale with ease demonstrated the natural flexibility of Dong Jun Wang’s voice. Be it accompanied by piano or full orchestra, what he lacked was much sense of impending doom for Posa that the text should convey.

At this early stage in their careers both artists have several things to recommend them. Time, hard work and experience will surely only deepen their approach and appreciation of the music they interpret.

Evan Dickerson