Winner of five previous Grammy awards and a rare MacArthur genius award, Dawn Upshaw is one of the great contemporary sopranos of the world. I was so excited to hear her sing for the first time at Jordan Hall, an exquisite concert space. She frequently performs with world class pianists, Gilbert Kalish and Richard Goode. She has given noteworthy performances of Polish composer, Henryk Gorecki (notably, his Third Symphony) and of Osvaldo Golijov, and has sung many of the great soprano opera roles (Mozart’s Pamina and Zerlina).
This concert at Jordan Hall was a success. Accompanied by Gilbert Kalish, she opened the program with pieces from Franz Schubert’s great song cycle, delivering the single most gratifying performance of “Gretche a Spinnrade” I have ever heard. Resonant with a hearty mid-range, her singing was effortless with bell-like vibrato. When she soared into the Schubertian drama, she was stellar. The remainder of the Schubert pieces filled with longing and loneliness, and true Schubertian melancholy.
Ravel came next with a lovely set of pieces based on individual animals via the poetry of French poet, Jules Rénard. From a strutting peacock to a cricket and swan, Ms. Upshaw’s voice displayed wonderful tonal colors with the right amount of pomp and ceremony when called for. Her swan was delightful with sparkling piano, the white “sleigh” of the bird carefully outlined.
Contemporary composer Sheila Silver’s “On Loving” was given a Boston premiere with Ms. Upshaw again in full command. “Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” A piano interlude followed by Mr. Kalish, by Leos Janacek, during which the pianist spoke of the composer’s sadness and deep despair at the outbreak of World War I. Both were played with fine intonation and pacing.
Finally, Ms. Upshaw sang a number of pieces composed by Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly. These were lustrous and earthy with impeccable Hungarian, including a range of feelings from loneliness to the search for a home. A real high point of the concert was followed by yet another high set of modern, terrific songs by William Bolcom. These clearly showcased Ms. Upshaw’s ability to perform cabaret singing with great style.
Carolyn Gregory is a writer who lives in Jamaica Plain, MA and writes often about music topics.