Paul Appleby is a young American tenor - - I’ve heard him a few times at the Met, in supporting roles in *Dialogues of the Carmelites* and *The Enchanted Island*, and in a leading role in *Two Boys*. But most memorably I heard him in recital a few years ago, doing Schubert’s *Die Schöne Müllerin* with Brian Zeger, at a noon concert series at Rockefeller University. He blew me away with his singing and with his artistry.
Pace University has started a recital series called Voce at Pace. I went to the first concert in the fall, by mezzo Jamie Barton, the current winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. She has the goods, has a big gorgeous voice and knows how to use it. She came up a little short on finesse, especially in a group of Brahms songs that sounded rather ordinary. Beautifully sung, but nothing special going on.
Appleby ALWAYS has something special going on, and it never gets in the way of his singing. He had an interesting format to his recital: the first half was all German songs with pianist Ken Noda, the second half was English-language songs with pianist Brian Zeger. The first half was more satisfying, because you really can’t get much better than Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann, nicht? The music on the second half wasn’t as great - - the Britten songs were wonderful, the Bernstein songs were OK, the Harbison songs were a little peculiar, and the Musto songs were duds. Here’s the program:
Schubert: Liane, Sehnsucht, An Emma, Abendrot, An Sylvia
Schumann (from *Myrten*): Widmung, Der Nussbaum, Sitz’ ich allein, Setze mir nicht du Grobian, Leis’ rudern hier, Wenn durch die Piazetta, Zum Schluss
Britten: Fish in the unruffled lakes, Seascape, Nocturne, Underneath the abject willow
Bernstein: To what you said, Dream with me
Harbison: Your name, Someday a seed, Odor
Musto: Island, Litany
Appleby has a warm, honeyed sound, the kind of voice that makes you sit up and take notice, but then sit back in your chair with the assurance that you’re in the presence of an artist. Every song was deeply thought out, and deeply felt. Plus he has a sincere wholesome nice young man quality about him, which is worth a lot. He did quite a lot of talking, giving background and biographical information before each set, and he was completely at ease doing this.
The Schubert and the Britten were the highlights for me. The two pianists were both wonderful, Zeger maybe coming out a nose ahead because his music was a little flashier, and he played with grace and sparkle. Both of them collaborated beautifully with Appleby, they always felt like a team. They were joined by cellist Dane Johansen on the Bernstein. I thought his playing was a little precious. This is a word that Robert Fountain used to use back in my Concert Choir days, and he never meant it in a good way.
Two things I need to note about the audience. I’ll give the good news first: Marilyn Horne was there. She walks with a cane but is just as adorable as ever. I was tempted to go over to her and wish her a happy birthday (she recently turned 80), but didn’t want to bother her. I might write her a note.
The bad news: I had a pair of old wenches sitting next to me. They were sitting on the aisle and my seat was in the middle of the row. I arrived at the row, they looked up at me. I said, “My seat is in the middle of the row.” They continued looking at me, but said nothing and did not move! Isn’t that charming. I said, “I’ll go in from the row behind, I have long legs. Please, don’t get up.” I maneuvered my way into the row, looked at the seat numbers, and saw that my seat was right next to one of these old wenches. And they had their two big ass fur coats piled onto my seat. I smiled sweetly at them and said, “Excuse me. This is my seat.” The one nearest to me gave a heavy sigh and said, “I guess I’ll have to move these.” And she moved them to the seat right ahead of her - - and the NERVE, someone ended up sitting there, too! I just shook my head and smiled.