Nicholas McNair

Classical Improvisations

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Nicholas McNair's Classical Improvisations was recorded in one session on January 4, 1998. A scholarly researcher of Classical and Romantic works, a recitalist, and an accompanist for silent films, McNair here attempts to revive a practice that was once common among keyboardists -- particularly as a test of proficiency and inventiveness -- but that has become rarer in modern times. His tonal improvisations have a light, sentimental quality that is reminiscent of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and some passages of Schubert. These names ought to indicate the narrow parameters of McNair's comfort zone, and his spontaneous outpourings are too much in the same conservative vein. He claims to come to the piano without any prepared material, but this is no serious difficulty since he has a mental store of melodic patterns and progressions to draw on and his sequences and repetitions show an over-reliance on convention. More disappointing, though, is the lack of any real challenge, either for the artist or the audience. Without a given theme or other imposed requirements to test his abilities, there is no way to judge McNair's improvisations as anything beyond sophisticated noodling; and the listener may find these effusions to be nothing more than tame pastiches: pleasant sounding but lacking in substance and originality.

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