Musicians Offer Challenging, Entertaining Performance

FREDONIA – Soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Gilbert Kalish offered a Fredonia audience a varied, challenging, and wonderfully entertaining concert, Saturday evening.

The two have been present on the Fredonia State campus all week, offering master classes, performances, lectures, and other such contributions. Saturday’s recital was the culmination of their visit.

The soprano was lovely, in a black evening slacks outfit covered with a knee-length, black-and-white evening sweater. She is internationally celebrated for both her powerful, dark soprano, and her comic acting gifts. her program on Saturday ranged widely, with a segment of songs by American composer Charles Ives, one of German lieder by Franz Schubert, one of Hungarian folk songs by Bela Bartok, one of French pleasantries by Maurice Ravel, and a final section of very American song with a strong hint of symbolism, by contemporary composer William Bolcom.

The pair also gave a world premiere of two expressive songs by contemporary American composer Sheila Silver, titled ”Two Songs for Diane.”

Kalish performed brilliantly, both as an accompanist and as a performing artist. His one solo was the Alcott movement from Charles Ives’ ”Concord Mass., 1840-60.”He had an excellent sense of what was needed from the pianist in the diverse program. He could thunder along with powerful romantic statements, or provide a gentle path for the soprano to wander, neither stressing her, nor abandoning her.

If someone in the audience had closed his eyes, he might, for much of the performance, have believed he was present at a recital by a mezzo-soprano. Ms. Upshaw’s voice is powerful in its lower registers and has a beautiful tone quality. But, when the music requires, she can raise the rafters and make the heart glow with a seamless, and in no way strident, top. No wonder she has become the toast of the Metropolitan Opera and other of the world’s major opera houses.

Both Ms. Upshaw and Kalish offered brief statements about the music, from time to time. Perhaps the most extensive spoken passages were explanations of the five animals in Ravel’s ”Histoires Naturelles:” a peacock, a cricket, a swan, a kingfisher, and a Guinea hen. The work which moved me most deeply was Bolcom’s ”George,” about the kind but unusual man whose kindness resulted in his murder. The latter was sung with moving tenderness and no hint of the maudlin or the patronizing.

Both musicians were generous in their interaction with their audience, never condescending. They gave the appearance of enjoying their time on campus very much, and from the students with whom I talked, it was a valuable and much appreciated experience for them, as well.