United States Ives, Schubert, Bartók, Ravel, Bolcom: Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Gilbert Kalish (piano), Corbett Auditorium, Cincinnati, Ohio. 23.9.2014 (RDA)
Ives: Songs; “The Alcotts” from Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord”
Ravel: Histoires Naturelles
William Bolcolm: Songs
To accommodate the large crowd that turned up to hear soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Gilbert Kalish, Chamber Music/Cincinnati had to relocate the concert to the larger Corbett Auditorium. Performing songs in English, German, French and Hungarian—with a solo piano interlude—Upshaw and Kalish created a great evening of music.
Since her professional debut thirty years ago, Upshaw has made a graceful transition from being primarily a Mozart singer, for which her young light lyric voice was perfect, to a versatile recitalist at home in multi-lingual concert repertoire. Her voice has settled into a lower range where she now is the most at home, using her chest voice without pulling punches. She inhabited the prickly angularities of Charles Ives’ “The Cage” and the homespun sentimentality of “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” both within a seven-song group from the maverick composer. Kalish followed with an impeccably and idiomatically played version of “The Alcotts,” from Ives’s Second Piano Sonata, the “Concord.”
In a group of Schubert lieder, Upshaw purposefully placed her voice first and foremost at the service of the words of seven songs, all but one with Goethe texts, ranging from the playfulness of “Geheimes” and the restlessness of “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” to the bravura of “Rastlose Liebe.” A natural lieder singer, Upshaw had noble company in Kalish, whose protean pianistic skills were at all times nobly put to the service of the music and its textual subtleties—a partnership of equals.
In the second half the duo took the audience into the little known world of Hungarian song literature, with five folk songs set to music by Béla Bartók. The language is tricky, with quirky stresses on the first syllables of words, but Upshaw imbued these small gems with charm and poignancy.
It was the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who made a derogatory comment about the French baritone Gérard Souzay, saying that one could be either a good singer of German lieder or a good singer of French mélodies, but not both. Not so for Upshaw, who sailed into Ravel’s Histoires Naturelles in flawless French, effectively delivering the utterly Gallic humor of Jules Renard’s depictions of a peacock, a cricket, a swan, a kingfisher and a guinea hen.
William Bolcom’s “Song of Black Max,” “Waitin’” and “George,” with texts by Arnold Weinstein, straddle the worlds of concert and cabaret. Upshaw’s singing of these was tough, street-wise, “been there, done that”—an entertaining and uncompromising ending to the evening.
Rafael de Acha