Upshaw brings power of voice, artistry to songs

November 08, 1999|By David Donovan | David Donovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dawn Upshaw has that rare ability to not only dazzle you with her musicianship and artistry, but to hit you smack in the middle of the heart with her emotional directness. Before long, she has you eating out of the palm of her hand. It was evident to the sold-out crowd at Shriver Hall Saturday evening as they delighted in every phrase and syllable of her German, French and American songs.

Equally impressive was her accompanist, pianist Gilbert Kalish. This listener was a little concerned that with the piano lid all the way up, he might overpower the singer.

However, Kalish's sensitivity and Upshaw's vocal power were in perfect balance and singleness of purpose.

The first half of the program was essentially the heart of the evening. The set of Robert Schumann lieder was beautifully sung and played. Everything was in order musically, but that extra warmth that great lieder singers like Ameling and Schwarzkopf deliver in this music was only about half there.

Things improved quickly in the next set of songs by the American composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. These songs are a world away from the Schumann and Upshaw devoured this music. These songs do remind one of the songs of Charles Ives, but there is also an original voice here. Upshaw and Kalish were simply white hot in this music.

Best of all was the wonderfully atmospheric account of Maurice Ravel's "Histoire naturelles." This marvelous quintet of songs about five different creatures (peacock, cricket, swan, kingfisher and guinea-hen) was nothing short of magical. The full range of emotions was deliciously served by Upshaw's flawless diction. Kalish supplied mystery and majesty with a wide variety of coloristic wonders in the piano accompaniment.

The second half of mainly American songs seemed a little lightweight after such an impressive first half. Good as it is to hear Upshaw in a wide variety of styles, one more substantial set of songs would have made this an unforgettable evening.

One minor quibble for the folks in charge of the Shriver Hall Concert Series. If one supplies printed texts to the audience, one should also provide a little light so they can be read.

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