Meade and Pallesen make a strong team in London Foundation recital
For almost twenty years now, the George London Foundation has been presenting recitals by its laureates at the Morgan Library on Madison Avenue. Sunday’s pairing of two London prize winners put together a formidable duo in baritone Nicholas Pallesen and star soprano Angela Meade.
Pallesen won his London Award in 2013, and his performance showed signs of a singer still in development. In Poulenc’s Chansons villageoises he displayed a strong, authoritative voice with a tone more woolen than silken as he described the rustic scenes of the songs. When he could rely on that firm, brawny sound to carry a song with force, he was successful, as in “Le mendiant,” tinged with a note of rough malice.
He struggled, though, to find real fluidity in his upper range, feeling pinched and often a little flat in “C’est le joli printemps.” Craig Rutenberg’s sensitive accompaniment buoyed these selections, giving them an airy, almost impressionistic touch.
Pallesen’s assertive forcefulness was most apparent in the aria “Ha! welche Lust” from Heinrich Marschner’s Der Vampyr. Not having to worry about overtaxing the music, Pallesen beamed, his voice strong and brassy as he viciously described the fate of the vampire’s victims.
He did manage to strike a different tone in a set of songs by Charles Ives. He was more comfortable in this idiom, able to summon a tender, even tone for “A Night Song.” Murky placidity defined “The Housatonic at Stockbridge,” Pallesen’s voice smoky and colorful, and the tipsy waltz of “The Side Show” presented a lighter side.
Pallesen’s strongest work came in “Charlie Rutlage,” a subtly charged song that begins upbeat, even conversational. He was convincing and endearing in his “provincial” manner, gaining energy in a long spoken narrative section as he described with frantic energy the untimely end of Charlie Rutlage, before suddenly halting with a moment of earnest sorrow: “beneath poor Charlie died.”
Pallesen is of course a newcomer, but by this point Angela Meade is practically a household name, and the house was packed for her on Sunday. A set of four French songs by Meyerbeer showed off her impressive range. Her tone in “Le voeu pendant l’orage” was remarkably direct, showing a sound more bony than we’re used to hearing from her. There was a thrilling charge in her voice to match the tumult of the storm—presented rather muddily on the piano by Danielle Orlando—and the contrast of her tender plea was striking.
There was an eye-twinkling, freewheeling quality in the cheeky, flirtatious “La fille de l’air.” “Ma barque légère” had a similarly carefree attitude, and “Siciliènne” showed effortless grace. In “Non mi dir,” from Don Giovanni, Meade showed off a gorgeous tone of liquid gold, floating up to a breathtaking pianissimo. Her voice is massive, but held up well in the intimate confines of Gilder Lehrman Hall; even at her loudest, there were no detectable flaws.
Meade is known best for her operatic roles, so to hear Strauss lieder from her was a new experience. “Zueignung”’s honeyed melody was sung with abandon, Meade’s searing passion giving it a blasting authority it rarely has. A similar approach to “Ständchen” was not quite so effective, seeming to overpower the serenade.
The duet from Verdi’s I Due Foscari proved a perfect ending. This material is squarely in Meade’s wheelhouse, and her combination of laser-like precision and firm, fiery voice, was thrilling, raising hairs when she condemned her father as “barbaro genitor.” This music turned out to be a major strength for Pallesen, too, as he brought a viscous sound perfectly suited to the rep and the role.
The only encore was an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday” for Nora London, whose work leading the London Foundation continues to bless audiences with concerts and singers like these.
The London Foundation’s next concert, on March 22, will pair Anthony Roth Costanzo and Nadine Sierra, with Bryan Wagorn accompanying. georgelondon.org