WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Voices Of Our Time - Sylvia Mcnair

Mcnair / Vignoles / Duparc / Faure / Messiaen
Release Date: 06/15/2004 
Label:  Tdk   Catalog #: VTSMN  
Composer:  John CoriglianoHenri DuparcGabriel FauréOlivier Messiaen,   ... 
Performer:  Roger VignolesSylvia McNair
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

After my experience of the Grace Bumbry DVD in this series, I was not sure what to expect. But Sylvia McNair’s contribution is simply superb. Whatever minor caveats one might have, there is a security of interpretation and a visceral love of the music she sings that makes this disc irresistible. Add to this the bonus of the Corigliano cycle, written for McNair; a real work of substance.

The programming is exemplary (the works appear exactly as in my title to this review). The emphasis, pre-Corigliano, is French and Spanish, McNair clearly playing to her strengths. In her first interview sequence (they speckle the programme, in between works), she talks of her respect for and awareness of the importance of the text. If this
Read more element is strong throughout, it comes to a head in the Corigliano.

But to start at the beginning, with Duparc’s Phidylé (McNair: ‘I love it!’) has the singer spinning her thread over Vignoles’ softly pulsating chordal accompaniment. Vignoles is in almost every way the perfect accompanist, and he helps McNair to capture the song’s near-ecstatic climax.

The Fauré (in C sharp minor - ‘a grrreat key’, apparently) is notable not only for McNair’s sensitive handling of line but also for Vignoles’ care with counter-melodies. But maybe it is the Messiaen that will surprise. The harmonies are characteristically ‘slippy’, chords sliding to the next sensually. This is a lovely song (very approachable, if that worries you) and McNair obviously loves this, too.

Punctuating the vocal items is a brief Gymnopédie that Vignoles despatches with great sensitivity; McNair stands to the side of the piano and gazes on.

As McNair puts it, one advantage of the Vocalise is that there are no words to forget. Ravel’s example of this genre is, perhaps unsurprisingly, sensual in a less developed - or perhaps more refined - way than the Messiaen. A rapid, quick-fire Debussy ‘Chevaux de bois’ contains a marvellous sense of mystery later on. McNair says she wants to sing Mélisande; maybe she has done since then? It would be wonderful to hear. Vignoles, too, speaks before this item, reflecting on the differences between German Lied and French Mélodies. His mode of delivery is very English and very different from McNair’s so they complement each other well.

So to the first of the two sets of songs. Falla’s popular Spanish songs are magnificent. The singer claims to love the language and the pianist does a mean guitar-strumming impression. McNair does the intensely Spanish ornaments in the vocal line especially well - try No. 4, ‘Jota’. The strength of the McNair/Vignoles partnership is that they can immerse themselves in a lullaby (No. 5, ‘Nana’) as easily as they can in the more extrovert numbers (the final song, No. 7,’Polo’).

Finally, for the advertised part of the programme, anyway, John Corigliano’s Mr Tambourine Man. McNair had been singing in Chicago in Corigliano’s opera The ghosts of Versailles. When asked who she would like to write a cycle for her, her response was immediate and this is the result. Finished in February 2000 and premiered in Carnegie Hall, this finds McNair and Vignoles at their very best, don’t let the fact that McNair uses the printed music put you off. Following on from the folk-like settings of Copland and the songs of Leonard Bernstein, this cycle is highly impressive.

Interestingly, the piano introduction to the first song, ‘Prelude, Mr Tambourine Man’ is not a million miles away from the Franco-Spanish Impressionist feeling we have heard thus far.

Even more notable is the way the concentration is screwed up even higher from the performers. It seems obvious that they want to do the very best by this piece.

The second movement, ‘Clothes Line’, is sparse, along the lines of Copland. The piano introduction put me in mind of the slow movement of Copland’s Duo for flute and piano. This is very still music, very delicate and spare. For ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, the third song, the piano seems to reflect the line, ‘How many roads must a man walk down?’ in its trudging gait.

The final Postlude carries straight on from the fifth song, ‘Chimes of Freedom’. The music gets ever more spare, until McNair is left to begin the Postlude on her own; and beguilingly she does so, too. This is the art of the simple to make the greatest point, the greatest affect as well as effect.

The encore is very much an optional extra, as the Corigliano demands prolonged contemplation long after the music stops. However the Mozart, the odd man out in the programme, too, features superb melismatic passage-work from McNair. It is not really thrilling and there are some tuning problems that indicate some fatigue. Finish with the Corigliano, though, and you will not be disappointed.

Thoroughly recommended.

-- Colin Clarke, MusicWeb International

Read less

Works on This Recording

Poems (7) of Bob Dylan "Mr. Tambourine Man" by John Corigliano
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Phidylé by Henri Duparc
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1882; France 
Au bord de l'eau, Op. 8 no 1 by Gabriel Fauré
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875; France 
Mélodies (3): no 1, Pourquoi? by Olivier Messiaen
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; France 
Gymnopédies (3) for Piano: no 2, Lent et triste by Erik Satie
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1888; France 
Vocalise en forme de Habañera by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; France 
Ariettes oubliées: no 4, Chevaux de bois by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1885; France 
Canciones populares españolas (7) by Manuel de Falla
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1915; Spain 
Exsultate jubilate, K 165 (158a): Alleluia by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Roger Vignoles (Piano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1773; Milan, Italy 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 GREAT PERFORMANCE August 25, 2014 By Denton Moers (Houston, TX) See All My Reviews "Sylvia McNair is my favorite vocalist. she has a great singing vice. this is one of my favorite performances.-------Denton Moers" Report Abuse
Review This Title