double play: Dawn Upshaw sings Rodgers and Hart (Nonesuch 7559- 79406-2)

Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson compare notes 'Upshaw's abandon, the touch of euphoria in her delivery, makes a great song come alive' 'Ella Fitzgerald made us all aware of what Upshaw lacks: urban dirt, pain and zest for life'

It is hard, no impossible, to imagine this same artist currently singing Handel at Glyndebourne. The transformation of voice and manner is so complete, and so unassuming. Dawn Upshaw will tell you that it's all a question of style, that every note she sings comes from essentially the same place - give or take a few minor adjustments. Like bringing the head voice right down and adding plenty of chest to the mix. The point is, it doesn't really matter how she does it - she does. And these lovable songs warm to her touch.

She starts with the kind of rarity that she and her collaborators love to spring. And you thought you knew your Rodgers and Hart. "He Was Too Good to Me" was cut from their 1930 show Simple Simon (a little like cutting "Tonight" or "Somewhere" from West Side Story) but remained a personal favourite, one of those long-lined Rodgers melodies that somehow knows it has a future. "Nobody's Heart" (their last great ballad, from By Jupiter) and "Little Girl Blue" (from Jumbo) - are set in poignant juxtaposition, the one drifting back and forth from the other. And if you've ever wondered if there might have been a moment, a specific moment, when Rodgers's melodic voice first began to take wing and soar, then consider "A Ship Without a Sail" (from Heads Up!, 1929) - what forgotten treasure that is.

But you can hear and feel Rodgers's music gain resonance through his association with Hart: from their first hit song - the brashly ingenious "Manhattan" (starting as it meant to go on with that audacious Manhattan/ Staten couplet) - to their last great ballad. They were a team, modern-day Savoyards - Rodgers's "holy" music (at least, that was Cole Porter's assessment), Hart's caustic rhymes, the sentimental and unsentimental in head-on collision. They had wit, wisdom, and countless new ways of saying "I love you" in 32 bars. Just listen to the second four-bar phrase of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" - if yearning has a signature tune, this is it. And then the middle-eight with its melodic leap of faith into the lines "grand to be alive, to be young, to be mad, to be yours alone" - Upshaw's abandon, the touch of euphoria in her delivery, makes a great song come alive in such a way that even she can't match it elsewhere.

Even so, the pleasures are manifold: three Dawn Upshaws singing for their supper in that chirpy point number from The Boys from Syracuse (delicious vocal arrangement, clever multi-tracking), Fred Hersch's exquisite piano accompaniments on "I Could Write a Book" and "It Never Entered My Mind", Eric Stern's musical supervision. This isn't just another happy excursion, a diva's day off from the "serious" business of operatic and Lieder pursuits. Upshaw believes in these songs as fervently as she believes in Schubert or Schumann. Hell, in Tin Pan Alley terms, they are Schubert and Schumann. ES

When classical singers take to Broadway, the results are usually cringe- making. It still astonishes me that anyone could be seduced by Kiri te Kanawa's matronly cooing in Bernstein's "I Feel Pretty" - or is that just another depressing example of what a name will do for sales? Thankfully, Dawn Upshaw is different. The voice is pure, not grandly cultivated, and she has had this kind of music in her blood from very early on. The results are always pleasingly natural, and put her in a song that really suits her, like the wistful "He Was Too Good to Me", and you can believe she was born to it. It's the same with "Nobody's Heart Belongs to Me"; if this isn't the perfect "Little Girl Blue", she'll take a lot of finding.

Sensibly, Upshaw has stuck with the sweet, longing mood for most of this, her second Broadway disc; evidently she has realised that raunch isn't her metier, so nothing like "Jenny's Song" (from the hugely successful I Wish It So) this time. It's invariably charming and stylish and when she sings about turning Manhattan into "an isle of joy", it can be surprisingly touching - New York transformed into something like the Mahlerian "child's view of heaven". But in a number like "Sing For Your Supper" the innocence jars - whatever the bird is singing for, it certainly isn't milk and cookies.

Perhaps I shouldn't have listened to Ella Fitzgerald the day before, but she made us all the more aware of what Upshaw lacks: urban dirt, pain and zest for life. Dawn Upshaw's view of Broadway is a lot of nice things, but I'm not sure "sexy" is one of them. SJ

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks