46 songs, one purpose



Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall/Wednesday

There is no room for ego in the secretive world of piano accompanists for they are destined to take second billing in any concert. Only the poor ones ever attract attention; the better they are, the less likely anyone is to notice them.

So if the name of Roger Vignoles is unfamiliar, that in itself is proof of his pre-eminence in the highest echelons of piano accompanying.

The problem is, how can a concert focus on the skills of someone whose very existence depends on not taking centre stage? Advance publicity suggested that Vignoles' appearance on the Singapore stage would cast him, for once, in the spotlight.

Not a bit of it. From the large number of performers who came on stage, he was distinguishable from the other pianists only by the fact that he was not clutching a clear plastic folder of music.

And if further evidence were needed of Vignoles' total absence of ego, it came in his placing way down as 14th in the list of performers who, between them, presented all 46 songs from Hugo Wolf's Italian Song-book.

Mathematicians would have a ball working out the possible permutations of 13 singers and seven pianists pairing up over a sequence of 46 songs. Certainly a fair number of those permutations was used up as a constant traffic of student singers and pianists interchanged between every couple of songs; a choreography made all the more intriguing by the fact that there was one chair fewer than there were performers on each side of the stage.

Yet, with all the changing of seats and shuffling around on stage, there was a remarkable coherence to this performance. It had fluency and interpretative consistency and in this we saw the firm hand of Vignoles on the wheel.

If he was reticent to take centre stage publicly, behind the scenes he had been preparing the performers to a level of remarkably unified awareness of the overall integrity of this collection of short and varied songs.

None of these songs stretches to much more than four lines of text or half that number of minutes in performance, yet each one has a distinct mood, colour, character and emotion.

Every singer-pianist pair found this and expressed it with total conviction, yet overarching this was a clear sense of the architecture of the Italian Song-book, which resulted in a deeply satisfying evening of music-making in which individual performers were drawn together with a single musical purpose.

If ever a reward should be given to a back-seat driver, Vignoles should step forward and collect it. The trouble is, he would probably have slipped away long before anyone had noticed him gone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline '46 songs, one purpose'. Subscribe