Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Follow the Lieder

July 29, 2011

Dawn Upshaw receives flowers as Inon Barnatan looks on in Santa Fe Photo: Ken mine 2011

One of the reasons I love Dawn Upshaw as a performer is that every performance from her brings something new and unexpected. Just when you think you know what she can do, she surprises you with something entirely different. There are few vocalists like her and her appearance in Santa Fe this week as part of her time as Artist-in-Residence at the 2011 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival is proving to be as memorable as any of her other stage appearances. On Thursday, she performed one of three programs she is doing for the festival this year focusing on the works of Schumann. Now admittedly, Upshaw is not the first name I think of when it comes to Lieder. She has recorded a variety of German Lieder with Richard Goode and toured in support of it. But it is often French, English, or Italian that she is best known in. So the power of her performance of seven of Schumann’s Lieder on Thursday came as a shock to me for the extent of their emotional power. Upshaw’s German may not be flawless, but her sense of the dramatic, her ability to establish narrative, and the way she can get inside of a song made these seven various works build to an overwhelming crescendo. It all started brightly and pleasantly enough with “In der Fremde” and “Er ist’s”. But as the minutes wore on a darker and eventually more impetuous sense of love shone through. By the time she reached “Mignon/Kennst du das Land?” and the concluding “Widmung”, the profound sense of being overwhelmed by emotion shone through in the dramatic pairing of these songs. Upshaw was steady and certain throughout without any gravel or missteps.

She was accompanied by young Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan who’ll be appearing on Saturday in a solo piano recital for the festival. He was a last minute replacement for Gilbert Kalish who had been scheduled to appear. Barnatan was quick on his feet and interacted beautifully with Upshaw as he did with the other performers on the program. The show started with Three Romances from Clara Schumann played by Barnatan and violin soloist Jessica Lee. They provided a lush and lovely introduction to Upshaw’s performance that followed. The evening concluded with Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet, which included Barnatan, violinist Soovin Kim, violist Choong-Jin Chang, and L.A. Phil principal cellist Peter Stumpf. Again the sound was polished, warm and lush. It was hard to believe that Barnatan was a last miunte sub given the quality of coordination in the performance. The quartet served as a sort-of response to Upshaw’s performance, as if the intensity of the love in the songs had eclipsed even the words themselves, leaving only this instrumental music. It was a lovely evening and, luckily, Upshaw will be around into next week giving two performances of Golijov’s Ayre on Sunday and Monday at the festival. Even when the opera isn’t performing, there is plenty of fabulous music to hear in Santa Fe.


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