German baritone Matthias Goerne, whose recital Wednesday night at the Ordway Center in St. Paul was part of the Schubert Club International Artist Series, studied with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, one of the 20th century's masters of the song repertoire. He learned his lessons well, as his program of Mahler and Shostakovich demonstrated.

His warm lyric baritone reminds of Fischer-Dieskau, but he uses his instrument in his own way, with his own insights. He combines a rich, resonant lower register with a thrilling, soaring top. He filled the hall with a sound that conveyed passion and nuance.

The focus of the program was on Mahler, songs from the "Rückert-Lieder," setting poems by 19th-century German poet Friedrich Rückert, the folk poetry of "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("The Youth's Magic Horn") and "Kindertotenlieder" ("Songs on the Death of Children").

Goerne took all these poems deeply to heart. He told a story with each one of them, especially in a sequence that included "Das irdische Leben" ("Life on Earth"), about a child dying, followed by two of the "Kindertotenlieder," reacting to a child's death. He was able to color each word, like "gelinde" ("gently") sung so tenderly, without losing the song's shape.

He was most effective when heard with eyes shut, his physicality proving distracting. He was either focused intently on the score or the accompanist, or he was lurching about the stage with exaggerated mannerisms.

But his hold over the audience was unmistakable. It was thrilling to hear extended periods of silence at the end of numbers, the audience not wanting to break the mood, before erupting into loud applause.

Interspersed with the Mahler were five songs from Shostakovich's "Michelangelo-Suite," setting the poetry of 16th-century Italian poet Michelangelo Buonarroti. In its later orchestral version, Shostakovich considered it his 16th Symphony in all but name, so strong was his sense of its structure.

Goerne not only broke up the set but sang them out of order. It would have been nice to hear the lightness of "Immortality" after the dark "Death," as Shostakovich had intended.

Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes proved an impeccable collaborator. He combined the best qualities of an accompanist and a soloist, supporting Goerne but creating magical effects independent of him.

William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.