MUSIC REVIEW: Dawn Upshaw

Australian Chamber Orchestra with Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Christopher Moore (viola) and Richard Tognetti (director and violin).
MUSIC REVIEW: Dawn Upshaw
Some of you may recall that Dawn Upshaw toured with the ACO in 2003, when the singer was struck down with swollen vocal chords – although she bravely battled through the first performance in Brisbane. In the time since then, Upshaw has had a battle of a different kind after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 – thankfully, the prognosis is a good one. Upshaw has also appeared with the ACO in North America and Europe, so this tour has been a long time coming. Much like how some people would look good in a paper bag, Upshaw is one of those singers who would sound good singing the weather report – the programme is really quite irrelevant" having said that, Tognetti and Upshaw have compiled an interesting programme which emphasises the soprano’s affection for contemporary music. Many people would have been introduced to Dawn Upshaw by the immortal recording of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) in 1991 – the stunningly beautiful recording surprised everyone when it sold over one million copies and cemented Upshaw’s reputation as a world-class performer. More recently, Upshaw has been heavily involved with Osvaldo Golijov (whom Adelaide audiences will remember as the composer of the 2008 Adelaide Festival Opera, Ainadamar). The concert began with a newly commissioned work to celebrate Tognetti’s 20th year with the orchestra, written by Australian composer James Ledger. The rhythmically complex work contained flashes of Bartok, and flecks of what sounded like Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. Tuned to Classical pitch, playing with gut strings (sheep gut, as Tognetti informed us later in the evening) and joined by two natural horns and period oboes, the orchestra then launched into Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A, K201. This attention to detail in terms of pitch and instruments seemed to fly in the face of the interpretation of the music, which was far from the crisp bounce I was expecting" instead, Tognetti and the orchestra opted for a lush, Romantic sound in both the symphony and the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K364 in the second half. The last work before interval was the Australian premiere of Golijov’s heartrending Three Songs, including the first piece he wrote for Upshaw, Lúa Descolorida, which was the pick of the three. Golijov’s music is vibrant and interesting" his fusion of different musical traditions is quite unlike most of what we hear on the concert stage today. After interval came Tognetti’s arrangement of a collection of Hungarian folksongs by Béla Bártok, which Upshaw had recommended. As usual, Katherine Kemp’s programme notes were detailed and engrossing, this time providing us with the fascinating background to Bártok and Kodály’s painstaking collection of folk music. Again, Upshaw’s singing in these peculiar and largely mournful songs was effortless and flawless, with the orchestra providing a sensitive backdrop. The final work on the programme, Richard Strauss’s Morgen, was a fitting conclusion to the evening and a stunning demonstration of vocal skill. Let’s hope Upshaw returns to Australia again, and soon – perhaps with the state symphony orchestras? Australian Chamber Orchestra with Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Christopher Moore (viola) and Richard Tognetti (director and violin). Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, Jan 30 Hamer Hall, Melbourne, Feb 2 Adelaide Town Hall, Feb 4 Perth Concert Hall, Feb 6 Sydney Opera House, Feb 8 City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, Feb 10, 11 & 14.

Edward Joyner

Thursday 5 February, 2009

About the author

Edward Joyner is an arts manager based in Adelaide and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and linguistics from the University of Adelaide. He is currently the SA Manager for Musica Viva Australia and Administrator of Adelaide’s acclaimed professional choir, Adelaide Chamber Singers. In his spare time, he is Manager of Concerts at St Peter’s Cathedral, where he also sings in the Choir. As a performer, Edward sings with Adelaide Chamber Singers, and has performed in the Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Fringe Festival and Adelaide Film Festival. He has featured on ABC broadcasts on both radio and television. Edward is also in demand as an arts reviewer and programme note-writer.