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MUSIC REVIEWS : McNair Versatile in South Bay Show

November 21, 1994|CHRIS PASLES

Soprano Sylvia McNair can sing Purcell with the immediacy of a classy Jerome Kern tune and Andre Previn with the poise of a baroque aria. Her voice is warm, even, focused and flexible, and her delivery, as heard in a program that also included works by Mozart, Schubert, Debussy and Bizet on Saturday in Marsee Auditorium at the South Bay Center for the Arts, is unaffected and deceptively easy.

Born in Mansfield, Ohio, she also remains very much an American singer in her idiomatic vocal handling of the language and in the American mixed and sliding vowel sounds that occasionally creep into her singing.

But there was nothing provincial about her artistry.

She sang three Purcell songs and his semi-dramatic scena "The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation" with haunting sweetness and persuasive involvement.

Previn's Four Songs (to words by Toni Morrison) showed a range from saucy Annie-Get-Your-Gun feminism to vulnerable confession. (Frances Steiner played the cello obbligatos with lean, amber tone.)

She was effortlessly secure and bright in the challenges of Mozart's concert aria, "Misera! dove son," K. 369, although less than ideally dramatic. Beauty of tone took precedence here over expression of textual urgency.

She was also secure in five seemingly simple Italian songs by Schubert that expose limitations as readily as arie antiche. None were exposed.

She sang Debussy's "Ariettes oubliees" with nuance and enunciation of model clarity. But she seemed freer in two songs by Bizet--the impetuous yet hesitant youth in "La Coccinelle," and the elegantly spun-out filigree in "Tarentelle."

Throughout the program, pianist Hal France provided discreet accompaniment.

For the single encore, McNair sang Leonard Bernstein's "I Hate Music."

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