THE Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra welcomed an angel to its stage Friday night as its latest Masterworks concert featured American soprano Dawn Upshaw making her local debut.
The four-time Grammy winner is equally renowned for her operatic repertoire as well as contemporary art song. The 51-year old singer has served as muse for such leading composers as Kaija Saariaho, John Adams and Osvaldo Golijov, among others, rocketing to international fame after recording Henryk Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs in 1993.
The concert, led by maestro Alexander Mickelthwate, included the WSO première of Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne composed between 1923-1955. The sets of folk songs based on Canteloube’s travels through France are charming slices of life inspired by shepherds and spinners, lullabies and cuckoo birds.
Upshaw immediately inhabited each song as a natural ranconteuse, clearly differentiating one from the other as she brought the seven short pieces to life. The Spinner showcased her effortless phrasing that included its gaily sung refrain Ti lirou lirou. She seamlessly interwove her voice among principal oboist Bede Hanley’s sinuous countermelody during Baïlèro. The shortest piece Tè, l’co, tè! (Run, dog, run!), and Lou coucut (The Cuckoo) displayed Upshaw’s ability to draw on a wide palette of sound to create many different sonic pictures.
The program also included Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s highly evocative Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra that has become a signature work for the soloist. Its first song of three, Night of the Flying Horses begins as a soulful Yiddish lullaby that steadily grows with intensity. Upshaw’s heartfelt a cappella opening established its pensive mood before the orchestra blossomed into a darkly flavoured gypsy doina.
The second song Lúa descolorida sung in Galician showcased the singer’s soaring upper range and lyrical phrasing as she sang its lament for the "colourless moon" from the composer’s La Pasión Según San Marcos. How Slow the Wind is a setting of two short Emily Dickinson poems, written in response to the death of the composer’s friend, sung with complete conviction.
The audience of 808 leapt to their feet after both pieces with cheers of bravo, demanding several curtain calls from a wonderfully gifted artist whom it is hoped will grace this stage again.
How fitting to feature Claude Debussy’s Printemps (Spring) as the orchestra’s first official concert of the new season. How intriguing, as well, to realize that it’s taken 41 years to hear this lushly romantic work since last performed in 1971. Mickelthwate guided the players through its two impressionistic movements that teem with the first blush of spring, ending with its exuberant welcoming of new life.
The concert also included Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite (1919) with its five movements creating a fiery end to the program.
The concert repeats tonight, 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.