In review: Tim Mead & James Baillieu in recital
Countertenor Tim Mead's recital with pianist James Baillieu was the perfect fix for a rainy Sunday afternoon. The pair delivered an hour's worth of English songs, favourites by Purcell, Quilter, Vaughan Williams, and Ireland, and more obscure pieces by Betty Roe, Joseph Phibbs, and John Dankworth.
It wasn't until the very end that Mead announced that the recital we'd just heard was his very first song recital. Wigmore Hall is a decent start, and both Mead and Baillieu gave a polished, finished product.
Mead's sound is truly impeccable. When he sings, it's as if he's insistently speaking, listening to the impact of his words. He listened, too, to Baillieu at the piano. Baillieu, with his warm sound and empathetic ear, is one of our favourite pianists these days. His playing reminds us of something Steven Blier said about the job of the accompanist, how it's like taking a singer by the hand and leading them down a hallway of doors. At each door, the pianist opens it for the singer, and asks if they want to go in; if they do, they join them enthusiastically, and if they don't, the pianist simply invites the singer through the next door. Baillieu has a knack for creating a soloistic phrase out of a singer's intent; he follows, without losing his autonomy.
Mead held his audience captive with a relaxed, comfortable posture, a beautiful balance of concentration and simplicity. One can often count on a countertenor to offer up precision, detail, and thought in a performance, and Mead is no exception. His range seems huge and seamless, and particularly impressive was how he handled the low writing in Britten's arrangements of Purcell and folk song (the same tricky tessitura of Oberon from Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream). Mead's "O Waly, Waly" was the highlight of the afternoon (except, perhaps, his stunning encore, Purcell's "Music for a while").
Mead heads next to Belgium, to sing in Opera Valaanderen's production of Agrippina, March 23-April 4. Baillieu returns next to Wigmore Hall in recital with mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, on February 13.