GMCD 7244 – The Low Bass – Great Art Songs from the Bass Repertoire

Kevin Maynor – Bass, Richard Woitach – Piano

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MusicWeb Wednesday June 18 03

Kevin Maynor has a nobly rounded bass. Its downward extension is fine, he possesses declamatory power when needed and whilst his top is not always ideally strong or resonant enough he’s seldom found badly wanting in his chosen repertoire. In addition his diction is often sound and he has the confidence to construct a programme wide ranging enough to take in German, French, Russian and English. Then there is his – or the record company’s – confidence in starting off with the three canonical Schubert settings. As a recitalist he seems to favour slow moving gravity; it suits the voice, which is sometimes less than authentically mobile, but it also presents problems. It brings with it potential fatigue, a danger not entirely alleviated by his vocal production – which can be worryingly one-dimensional as well as lacking range of colouration and flexibility. The lack of optimum colour exposes an allied problem, which is a certain generalization of approach, an inability to distinguish between the songs through inflection and subtle illumination of the text.

There are many enjoyable things here naturally but others that will provoke debate. The contrastive material in Erlkönig seems rather overdone – the croon and the hardening are just too explicit – and when we reach Wolf I find that Wohl denk’ ich oft isn’t quite climactic enough. Fühit meine Seele is the most comprehensively well sung of this group of three in which Maynor seems to seek textual depths with particular care. There is a little intermezzo via Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre even though his French pronunciation is rather occluded. Flégier’s Le Cor seems to me altogether more convincing – powerfully resonant low notes and some really dextrous musicianship. He brings out the concentrated gravity of Strauss’ Der Einsame but in a companion setting, Das Thal, Maynor badly lacks subtlety of expressive nuance. As one might expect the Russian settings are good vehicles for his plangent sympathy and the recital ends with two slices of Americana – Dello Joio’s The Assassination, slow-moving and pensive and Jack Beeson’s To a Sinister Potato, which sounds iconoclastically promising but isn’t.

Sleeve notes detailing the trials and tribulations of recording life with entertaining honesty are by the excellent pianist, Richard Woitach.                                                                                                       Jonathan Woolf

International Record Review April 03

‘Songs from the bass repertoire’, but many included by the black American bass Kevin Maynor (b. 1954) were not meant to be restricted. More important is how Maynor and his accompanist perform them. Sloppy presentation provides no opus numbers or their equivalent, and no poets are named. Richard Woitach’s note concerns the recording and says little about the songs. Maynor’s voice is a true bass but with an easy top. Some impurities are noticeable: soft notes sometimes lose focus and firmness, as in the second Michelangelo song. Once or twice, particularly in Danse rnacabre, Maynor cannot utter the words quickly enough. Nevertheless, his is a voice of quality, best heard in the slower songs, such as the three by Richard Strauss, of which the Op. 51 duo are definitely bass territory. The enormous range of ‘Das Thal’ is victoriously encompassed, from dark depth to brazen top. The German songs allow him to display rock-solid, sepulchral bottom notes, while still being interpreted thoughtfully, though Erikönig does not really give a sense of eeriness. Maynor is not helped by Woitach’s rather lumpen playing.

To find which Der Wanderer is here, and its Deutsch number, I checked Christopher Maltman’s version of the Lübeck setting and heard a very different approach from him and Graham Johnson. The latter’s opening is light, to suit Maltman, and reflective. Woitach’s is heavier and in a hurry. Maltman takes 6’03”, Maynor 4’49”. Another song reserved for basses is Flégier’s Le Cor, which receives from Maynor what might be dubbed the open-air treatment. This shows him at his best: voice rich, resonant. Rachmaninov’s Merning is a shade rusty: heralding a grey day, but Maynor gives a telling account of The Assassination.

My criticisms did not prevent me from experiencing a fair bit of pleasure from this CD, which is in good sound. What I should like from Maynor is an operatic recital, including something of his Daland, Sarastro and Zaccaria (and a longer playing-time). The only occasion on which I have heard him live was in opera: a small role in Donizetti’s Dem Sébastien in Carnegie Hall in 1984.
John T Hughes