Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 8
I’m sure that everyone asks William Mac Davis if he is the same Mac Davis who wrote “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me” and “In the Ghetto”, and was a big TV star to boot. He is not. The “other” Mac Davis is actually William Mac Davis, a composer of concert music, born in 1953, whose teachers included Samuel Adler and Ned Rorem. Given such pedigree, it’s not surprising that the 24 art songs comprising this collection are tonal, conservative, communicatively tuneful, well crafted, and easy to digest.
Among the songs contained in the William Blake cycle Fearful Symmetry, I’m captivated by The Sick Rose, where the vocal melody’s intricate chromaticism intertwines with the piano part’s sparse right-hand figurations, as well as The Tyger’s insistent, angular trajectory. Christopher Smart’s inventive texts certainly factor into the heightened levels of energy and harmonic spice throughout Hymns for the Amusement of Children. I couldn’t help but compare Davis’ setting of Ben Johnson’s The Silver Swan to Ned Rorem’s earlier version: Davis favors curvy, spacious phrase-making in contrast to Rorem’s terser, square-cut prosody.
The husband and wife soprano/pianist duo of Lynda Poston Smith and Robert Carl Smith serve Davis’ music well, especially in softer, more intimate selections, where the soprano’s floating legato and excellent diction stand out. The sound quality becomes harsh in louder moments, but not to the point of distraction. Singers looking for accessible yet relatively unknown American art songs ought to investigate the “other” Mac Davis.
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Recording Details:Album Title: Fearful Symmetry
Reference Recording: None for this collection
- DAVIS, WILLIAM MAC:Fearful Symmetry; Songs of Circles and The Wheel; Hymns for the Amusement of Children; 5 Elizabethan Lyrics; The Lord Bless You and Keep You
- Lynda Poston Smith (soprano); Robert Carl Smith (piano)
- Centaur - 3644