LABELS: Elektra Nonesuch
WORKS: Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915; Menotti: The Old Maid and the Thief; Harbison: 6 Mirabai Songs; Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress
PERFORMER: Dawn Upshaw (soprano); Orchestra of St Luke’s/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79187-2 DDD
Such is the integrity and commitment of soprano Dawn Upshaw’s work both researching and recreating lesser-known corners of the song repertoire that her singing communicates irresistibly to an ever-widening audience.So much so, that one of her earlier programmes of American music, first released in 1989, is now reissued: don’t miss it this time.
Upshaw, like composer John Harbinson whose remarkable Mirabai Songs form the resonant centre to this recital has a particular interest in writing for voice and instrumental ensemble: Harbison, indeed, sees the genre very much as the new way forward. His own cycle setting of Robert Bly’s translations of poems about the evolving consciousness of a woman living – and loving Krishna – in 16th-century India, is a compelling journey through the ecstatic, the erotic and the devotional, within a typically startling and imaginative kaleidoscope of instrumental form and colour.
Upshaw revels in Harbison’s keen understanding of the human voice just as her own intoxication with words enables her to savour to the full Samuel Barber’s late-romantic fusion of present and past in the nostalgic setting of James Agee’s prose-poem which gives the recital its name. By contrast, the bright energy of her soprano lights up Menotti’s unique forging of wit and passion in a short extract from his radio opera The Old Maid and the Thief, nicely complemented by the robust and operatic neo-classicism of ‘No word from Tom’ from Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress.