Upshaw turns in great performance

November 11, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

It's obvious what kind of singer Dawn Upshaw is before she sets foot on stage.

Upon the Shriver Hall stage Saturday night before her recital sat the piano -- with its lid raised all the way up. This meant she views a song recital as chamber music -- a collaborative effort between singer and pianist. (It was also good sense -- any pianist will tell you it's easier to hear yourself and play more supportively if the lid is completely up.)

Upshaw and her pianist, the superb Margo Garrett, did indeed make their recital of songs by Mozart, Schubert, Griffes, Faure and Ives a superb collaborative affair. The brilliance Schubert wrote into such songs as "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel" or the clangor that Ives calls upon the piano to make in "The Circus Band" were fully realized. In the exultantly lyrical second, seventh and ninth numbers of the Faure cycle, "La Bonne Chanson," -- in which the piano should take the lead -- Garrett always did. Not all fine singers are fine enough musicians to put the music before their voices. Upshaw clearly is such a singer.

This recital suggested, however, that Upshaw, 31, has developed from a fine singer into a great one. The five Mozart songs that she sang are not masterpieces. In fact, they can sound downright trivial. What the singer was able to do was to realize both their archness and their passion -- and she did this better than I've ever heard it done before.

Because the Schubert selections -- which were substituted for songs from Mussorgsky's "The Nursery" -- are such great pieces, they made even greater impact. In a miniature barely a page long such as "The Wanderer's Nightsong," Upshaw was able to create a mood; in the longer "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel," she brought the song fearlessly to its tragic climax; and in "Mignon's Song," she was able to fill Shriver with singing that could not have been softer or more more yearning. Performances of Griffes, Ives and Faure were just as terrific.

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