Nicholas Phan: Illuminations
Nicholas Phan’s previous releases have shown him to be not only a fine singer but a fine programmer, too. His latest album continues the trend and juxtaposes three works – two to texts by Verlaine, one to a text by Rimbaud – that provide an unalloyed hour of pleasure.
He is joined in the first two works by his regular accompanist, Myra Huang, who plays with a lovely mixture of sensitivity and delicacy – listen to her at the opening of Debussy’s ‘C’est l’extase langoureuse’, for example, or the start of Fauré’s ‘Avant que tu ne t’en ailles’. The Telegraph Quartet fill out the textures of the Fauré beautifully, too.
Phan’s own interpretations set the tone. Here’s a singer who puts music and words first, without ever resorting to the self-regard that surely must be a temptation in music as seductive as this. There are more purely beguiling voices out there – Phan’s tenor is not the juiciest, and it can develop a beat under pressure – but he sings with intelligence, sensitivity and poise, not to mention an appealing gentleness and patience. His French is correct, perhaps, rather than meltingly idiomatic, but he communicates directly and affectingly.
After two French composers, the work that gives the disc its title showcases the young Benjamin Britten in Francophone mode. The brilliance of Les illuminations rarely fails to come across. And though Phan’s account with The Knights is not, as with the other works on the disc, likely to dislodge any existing favourites, it is highly persuasive and difficult to resist. The tenor’s virtues pay dividends here and the playing of the orchestra is beautifully alive and alert, with some excellent solo work. With detailed and clear sound, this is a recital that can be safely recommended.