Dawn Upshaw – Friday, April 24th 2015

Chamber Music Kelowna wrapped up its 35th season on Friday with an intimate recital featuring two international stars of the concert stage, Dawn Upshaw soprano, and Gilbert Kalish piano. The program took the audience on a journey that spanned the full gamut of the Art Song genre, from the romantic early Lieder of Franz Schubert to the cabaret-style settings of the cheeky poetry of Arnold Weinstein by the contemporary American composer William Bolcom.

From Upshaw’s opening low B flat in Songs My Mother Taught Me by Charles Ives, the sold out house at the Mary Irwin Theatre knew they were in for a very special evening of musical dialogue. The program opened with seven songs by the American composer Charles Ives, who, as Kalish explained, was one of the first American composers to break from European tradition and experiment with finding a truly American voice. The quirky musical twists and turns so characteristic of Ives were skillfully navigated both musically and theatrically by Upshaw and Kalish. The set culminated in a beautifully arranged and executed version of the old gospel hymn Nearer My God To Thee, an example of Ives’ interest in reconciling the academic tradition of European composition with the music of his childhood.

The program continued with a sensitive rendition by Kalish of the Fourth Movement of the monumental Piano Sonata No. 2 “Concord” by Ives which tactfully complemented the previous song cycle.

The first half concluded with a series of collected Lieder by Franz Schubert that showcased Upshaw’s outstanding command of the lyrical style so important to this genre. Kalish showed  sensitivity throughout and Upshaw brought the German text to life through her solid command of the language and poetry, especially in Gretchen am Spinnrade. 

The second half opened with Seven Early Songs by Austrian composer Alban Berg. Although Berg is best known for his later experimental works in the Schoenbergian style, these pieces harkened back to his post- romantic roots and were given a fresh and thoughtful reading by Upshaw and Kalish.

A set of five Hungarian folk song arrangements by Bela Bartok showed Upshaw’s dexterity in adapting to various vocal styles as she gave a stunning performance of these charming pieces that stayed true to their folkloric roots. Her captivating stage personality enhanced the presentation of these pieces which she performed in the original Hungarian.

The program concluded with four vaudeville style songs by William Bolcom that highlighted the consummate musicianship of both artists.

Friday night’s concert will likely be remembered as one of the highlights of CMK’s 35 years of bringing outstanding musical talent to Kelowna.

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