MUSIC / Double Play: Giving her regards to Broadway

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The Independent Culture
I WISH IT SO: Show songs by Bernstein, Blitzstein, Sondheim and Weill

Dawn Upshaw (soprano)

(Elektra Nonesuch 7559-79345-2)

NOT LEAST among the considerable pleasures of this captivating disc was for me the discovery of a great song. It's the title song, 'I Wish It So'. Marc Blitzstein wrote it and it shows us the way - in every sense. Each of these four composers was in no small measure responsible for broadening Broadway's horizons. And through this shrewdly chosen collection (classics rubbing shoulders with curios), you begin to appreciate why and how. Aficionados will welcome it for the rarities - especially the Sondheim rarities: his insidiously wistful blues, 'The Girls of Summer'; or 'What More Do I Need?' - a celebration of big city grit and grime, a great number from an unproduced show. You'd never credit that Upshaw comes from the 'operatic' sector. She's right inside the style, she knows just how to mix her chest and head registers, how to curb her soprano voice - except, of course, in Bernstein's 'Glitter and Be Gay', where it can and does fly. She coaxes, she embraces, she belts the melodies. The lyrics might have been discovered just that minute. Quite simply the best album of Broadway song in ages - from any source. Edward Seckerson

DAWN UPSHAW, raised to star status by the success of Gorecki's Third Symphony, turns her attention to Broadway. No doubt the cynical will write it off as commercial opportunism, but in fact Upshaw shows a much deeper feel for Broadway style than most of her classically reared counterparts - you've only to compare her nimble, appealing 'I Feel Pretty' with the solemnly operatic Kiri Te Kanawa on Bernstein's West Side Story to see what I mean. The voice isn't big, and maybe it's sometimes a touch self-conscious - 'The Saga of Jenny' sounds to me like someone trying to be raunchy and abandoned - but the style never feels just plain wrong, the way Te Kanawa's does, and the intimate recordings show it all to best advantage. In the title number and in Bernstein's 'Glitter and Be Gay' Upshaw gets the tones of underlying 'unrest' across very tellingly, without sacrificing charm - not an easy balancing act. And affectionate as she is, she doesn't drench these songs in maple syrup - another big plus for me, though I'm not sure all Broadway fans will agree there. The disc is well worth having, but I'd buy it while the extra 'free limited edition Kurt Weill CD single' is still on offer: under 45 minutes for the main disc is rather short measure. Stephen Johnson

LUTOSLAWSKI: Symphonies 3 & 4; Les Espaces du sommeil

John Shirley-Quirk, Los Angeles Philharmonic / Esa-Pekka Salonen

(Sony SK 66280)

THERE'S an extraordinary passage in the second part of Lutoslawski's Third Symphony: a great wave-like melody emerging from somewhere deep in the composer's consciousness and cresting spectacularly in the strings. It's a cathartic moment. It's the moment in which this symphony - perhaps even Lutoslawski himself - finds the key to fulfilment. All those elegantly crafted but seemingly unrelated details suddenly come together in a common expressive purpose - a tune.

With the Fourth, and sadly last, Symphony the promise of a more expressive, linear style is yet more highly developed. A heartbeat of string basses retraces a line of succession stretching all the way back to the late 19th century; a lone clarinet takes to this winding road with a doleful but strangely consoling song (is that Bartok remembered in the Hungarian catch of the melody?). Explosions of controlled indeterminacy (busy tucketings of brass and percussion) jolt us back to the modern world. And yet that big moment in the Third Symphony has nothing on the kind of string-led elaborations Lutoslawski lays down here. Salonen and the LA Philharmonic take them closer to Hollywood than you might imagine. It's as if we're poised between a reassuring past and an unsettling future. Lutoslawski was a master of balance. The craftsmanship was always matchless. But here is a new- found freedom and expressivity and fantasy. Intriguing - and beautiful - new beginnings. More's the pity there won't be a Fifth. ES

ONLY the Fourth Symphony is a new recording, but it completes a very welcome coupling, offering a first-rate introduction to one of the great originals of recent times. It's well worth getting to know Lutoslawski. In the textbooks, he's usually listed among the now hugely unfashionable pioneer figures of the modernist Sixties and Seventies, but listeners who find Birtwistle, Berio or Boulez painfully alienating may find Lutoslawski's sound world much easier to enter, and pleasanter to stay in. There are gorgeous things in all three pieces - exotic colours and textures, melting harmonies - and ideas of almost startling lyrical warmth, like the clarinet tune that opens the Fourth Symphony or the baritone's sensuously falling 'sommeil . . .' in the coda of Les Espaces du sommeil. True, Lutoslawski can also be abrasive, even brutal, but in performances like these the forcefulness is bracing, uplifting.

As a conductor, Lutoslawski tended to be oddly reticent about some of his bolder ideas. Not so Esa-Pekka Salonen, whose expressive overview is here powerfully persuasive. This is the kind of music that can open doors on new imaginative realms; try it. SJ