Wow! What a Voice! Dawn Upshaw with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Dawn Upshaw
May 15, 2010
Winspear Centre

Saturday, May 15 proved to be a spectacularly unique experience for Edmonton’s classical music community.   Dawn Upshaw, one of the foremost sopranos of our time, made her first public appearance in our city, performing a series of orchestrated songs with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.


Born and trained in the United States, Upshaw first came to international attention with the release of the million-selling recording of Polish composer Henryk Gorecki’s hauntingly beautiful Symphony No. 3: “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” in 1993.  As an artistic performer, she is equally at home with opera and mainstream concert repertoire, including oratorios and lieder.  Her innate, natural proclivity to analize both music and text to the level of the intent of the composer and her ability to readily communicate those intentions to her audiences has garnered her a wide and diverse following.


During the first half of the concert, with the ESO, under the direction of current Music Director William Eddins, Ms. Upshaw performed Three Songs composed by Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov.  Golijov had originally written the first pieces for the 2000 Sally Potter film The Man Who Cried, and he subsequently reworked and reorchestrated it for this set, especially for Upshaw.  “Mach tsu di eigelech” (“Close Your Eyes”) was sung in its original Yiddish text.  The Lullaby opens with solo unaccompanied voice, and Upshaw’s rich soprano timbres projected brilliantly in  the hall.  The orchestra entered projecting a somber mood, which quickly built into a distinct, Romanian gypsy style.


The second song, entitled “Lúa descolorida” (“The Colourless Moon”), is a sorrowful lament originally sung by the Apostle Peter in Golijov’s sacred work La Pasión Según San Marcos.  The text was written by Spanish Galician poet Rosalia de Castro.  Upshaw’s intonation was superbly pristine and at times the timbre of her voice was so haunting that it produced goose bumps.


The final song, “How Slow the Wind,” is based upon a poem by Emily Dickinson.  This was the most dramatic and sonically colourful of the three songs.  Upshaw produces her high notes effortlessly and such is her vocal instrument that even in the most exquisitely soft passages, she was never overpowered by the orchestra.


Following intermission, Ms. Upshaw sang four German lieder originally composed by Franz Schubert, but in this case orchestrated by Golijov into a continuous and cohesive whole without a break.  “Wandrers Nachtlied” (“Wayfarer’s Night Song”) bore a haunting opening for the orchestra.  “Lied der Mignon (Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt)” (“Song of Mignon – Only one who knows longing”) really brought Upshaw’s vocal resources to the fore.  She really shone here – her vocal radiance was at once soaring, pure and clear.   “Dass sie Hier gewesen” (“She Was Here”) and “Nacht und Traume” (“Night and Dreams”) closed the set.


Overall, perhaps Golijov’s greatest strength is more as an orchestrator rather than a composer.  His use of tonal colours often reminds the listener of the great film composers of the 1940s and ’50s.  With respect to the Schubert songs, it was truly interesting to hear such evocative and lucid orchestrations of music that one normally hears accompanied by only the piano.


The concert opened with the ESO’s premiere performance of Fratres by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.  The piece is one of the most contemporary works I have ever heard the orchestra perform.  It is a beautifully crafted lamentation for strings and percussion consisting of claves and bass drum.    The strings were wonderfully lucid with clean attacks and transparent harmonies with richly textured sonorities.  Conductor William Eddins drew some wonderful tonal colours and dynamic contrasts from the players.


The concert closed with a mashing rendition of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major (The Italian).  Music Director Eddins directed the score from memory.

Despite the quality of the playing, compared to what preceded it, the performance was almost anti-climactic.


more in Music Feature     |     posted Jun 2nd, 2010 at 12:05pm     

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