MUSIC / Dawn Upshaw - Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
She welcomed us after the Haydn: 'Anyone need a cough- sweet?' Dawn Upshaw can say just about anything to an audience and not sound cute. Because she's real - she's no diva, no 'artiste' in any traditional sense of the words: just plain Dawn Upshaw - unaffected, direct, original. You leave her recitals knowing that you've never heard those songs sung in quite the same way before. Ceremonious, reverent, she is not: this is living lieder. There's still no one who connects with text and music as she does: each new item is a tiny theatrical happening. She took Schumann's Liederkreis, rediscovered and effectively dramatised it: in a less truthful, less motivated performer her vibrant, colouristic effects would have seemed contrived. The voice is sounding more lived-in now; it's lost some of that early chasteness, opened up in its potential for colour. I hear more depth and penetration now in a fuller range of chest-tones: in quirky and heart-breaking Charles Ives songs she was Broadway belter, cabaret and folk-singer rolled into one (she really must record this remarkable songbook). In Mussorgsky's 'Nursery' songs, she was a child again, vocally and physically; and she was funny and touching because she wasn't 'coy' - we all know how embarrassing these songs can sound in less skilled hands. But then, for all her sophistication and musicianship and success, the essential Dawn Upshaw quality is still ingenuousness. May it always be so.

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