The Exquisite Singing of Sylvia McNair
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 06/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Soprano Sylvia McNair has everything - a perfectly produced and controlled silvery soprano voice, crackling intelligence, physical grace and beauty, clear and natural diction, acting ability even within the restrictions of a vocal recital - and these attributes are in ample evidence in this DVD of a recital from the Théâtre Châtelet, Paris, of 24 May 2000. She is accompanied brilliantly by the distinguished British pianist Roger Vignoles in a recital of French, Spanish and American songs. Each song or groups of songs is introduced in separately filmed interviews with Miss McNair and Mr Vignoles. These reveal their deep love and understanding of the material at hand and their comments add to the enjoyment of the songs presented.The first group consists of Duparc's 'Phydilé,' Fauré's 'Au bord de l'eau,' Olivier Messiaen's 'Pourquoi?,' Ravel's 'Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera,' and Debussy's 'Chevaux de bois.' McNair's fluency in French is obvious; further, her love for and affinity for this literature, for which she is well-known, makes this, for me, the most striking of the music heard here. Particularly lovely is her ease with the slightly awkward (but lovely) melodic outline of the Fauré song. And her slightly world-worn manner in Messiaen's 'Pourquoi?' is spot-on. The Ravel is simply delectable. Between the fourth and fifth songs Vignoles plays Satie's second 'Gymnopédie.' McNair switches to Spanish for de Falla's 'Siete canciones populares españolas.' She tells us that she has only recently begun singing in Spanish but loves to do so because of the 'open vowels and soft consonants' in the language. Certainly, the sophisticated settings of Spanish folk-songs, with their extraordinarily effective (and difficult) piano accompaniments (played with panache by Vignoles) give her the opportunity to display her fluid coloratura (including an exquisite trill), her ease with the language, and her ability to convey a lyric. I particularly liked 'Jota' and 'Polo.' Even better was 'Canción'; the melody and 6/8 rhythm are so infectious I had to stop myself from singing along.The second half consists entirely of a new song cycle by John Corigliano set to Bob Dylan song lyrics, with original music that makes no reference whatever to Dylan's own melodies for these texts. This is slightly unsettling for anyone familiar with the words, and frankly they do not supersede the originals. They are set in Corigliano's slightly astringent style and do illustrate, sometimes at cross purposes to Dylan's originals, the drama of these texts which are themselves often imbued with bitterness and protest. It does not seem to me that this is a successful venture, although both McNair and Vignoles acquit themselves admirably. I have not been the greatest fan of Corigliano's music and recognize that others more attuned to his style will respond more favorably to the cycle. For an encore McNair and Vignoles perform the 'Alleluia' from Mozart's 'Exsultate, Jubilate.' McNair's lightning fast fioriture and delicately controlled trill are in full evidence there. The Châtelet audience respond enthusiastically.The DVD allows for subtitles in English, Spanish, French and Italian. The sound can be heard in regular stereo, Dolby stereo, and DTS 5.0. Camerawork is unobtrusive and expert; the director an editor clearly had the scores well in hand and were able to show what was most important, whether from the singer or the pianist, at appropriate moments. This DVD is part of a 'Voices of Our Time' series that originates at the Théâtre Musical de Paris - Châtelet and already includes recitals by Dawn Upshaw, Barbara Bonney, Grace Bumbry, Ian Bostridge, and Felicity Lott.Recommended.TT=81 min.Scott Morrison"