Times Music Critic

Jorma Hynninen, the Finnish baritone who made his belated local debut Tuesday night at Ambassador Auditorium, isn't like the other famous recitalists who have recently graced our stages.

He doesn't belt out the Lieder and emote all over the place.

He doesn't flirt and waltz with a pretty assisting-soprano.

He doesn't appropriate the concert platform for a demonstration of brash operatic skills.

He doesn't chat with the audience, tell jokes, offer ballgame scores or engage his accompanist in comic routines.

Hynninen just sings songs.

For him, a recital isn't a love-in, a star turn, an ego indulgence or a show-biz blast. It is simply an exercise in emotional and aesthetic communication.

For us, the result is a rare, enlightening, stimulating pleasure.

Hynninen does not happen to command the most voluptuous voice in the world. It is a little dry, even raspy at times. Nor does he seem to command a particularly flamboyant ego. He is a thinker who happens to be a singer, not vice versa.

He is uncompromisingly serious. He certainly doesn't condescend to the masses.

Similar things, not incidentally, could be said of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Hynninen does, of course, know the extrovert secrets of theatrical pathos. That was amply demonstrated when he sang Rodrigo in "Don Carlo" at the Met three years ago. But, unlike many an illustrious colleague, he makes crucial adjustments in scale and intensity when it comes to unadorned poetic projection.

At his Ambassador recital, he limited his attention to three composers: Hugo Wolf, Jean Sibelius and Robert Schumann. He went no further even in the encores. Unity of style and expressive intimacy obviously were more important to him than variety-show exhibitionism.

In the five Wolf songs that opened the program, Hynninen revealed impeccable German diction, a subtle wit, appreciation of the distinction between sentiment and gush. He sang with point, with controlled ardor and with fierce concentration.

In the five Sibelius songs that followed, he savored the romantic rhetoric while exulting in the gutsy and mellifluous advantage of the original language. The man is a discerning storyteller.

He floated ravishing pianissimo sighs in "Sav, sav, susa." He brought desperate poignance to the climax of "Svarta rosor" and, in the process, invoked memories of Jussi Bjoerling. He proved that understatement heightens the languid compulsion of "Var det en drom."

After intermission, he turned to the cyclical ecstasies and agonies of Schumann's "Dichterliebe." The 16 disparate songs flowed as one.

Acting with his face, his stance and, of course, with his pliant, wide-ranging voice, Hynninen eloquently traced the hero's emotional progress from elation to delusion to anger to despair. He did so, moreover, with sparing but climactic recourse to the forte outburst, with a pervasive aura of sincerity and a fine illusion of spontaneity.

Ilmo Ranta was the sensitive accompanist.

The demanding program may have seemed short. It lasted no more than an hour and a half. For once, however, less really was more.

The sophisticated, surprisingly small audience gave the artists the rapt attention and stormy applause they deserved.

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