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S&H Wigmore Hall Song Recital

WOLF, BARTOK, HINDEMITH, MAHLER & MUSSORGSKY Dawn Upshaw (soprano) & Gilbert Kalish (piano) Wigmore Hall, 18 May 2002 (PGW)

It is a rare delight when world-class artists at their peak devote appearances to unusual repertoire. Dawn Upshaw, making singing sound so easy, was with her regular partner Gilbert Kalish, one of the best song recital pianists before the public. This perfectly attuned American duo temporarily eclipsed memories of even the best British song accompanists regularly heard on the same platform. Three Wolf Möricke songs with strong and subtle accompaniment (piano lid wide open, dynamics correspondingly wide and full) left you wishing for a whole Wolf recital from artists who understand his every nuance perfectly.

Kalish relished every harmonic shift in his timing and voicing of chords and together they pointed every turn of phase in lighter songs from Mahler's Das Knaben Wunderhorn in perfect synchrony. In praise of high intellect, a singing contest between nightingale & cuckoo (judged the winner by the donkey judge) was a nice dig at conservative competition adjudicators! A group from the young Paul Hindemith's Das Marienleben, given in the more instinctive version generally preferred to the more sober 1948 revision, speeded us through the Virgin's own life from her birth to the Consoling by the risen Christ. Upshaw and Kalish easily persuaded us to share Glenn Gould's belief that the 1923 Das Marienleben is 'the greatest song cycle ever written'.

A few of Bartok's Twenty Hungarian Folksongs of 1929, which are elaborated to through-composed art songs, gave Kalish the opportunity to give rein to unbuttoned virtuosity; immensely exciting - a neglected treasure trove. Finally, five (only) of Mussorgsky's The Nursery cameos, introduced and then acted by this experienced opera star whilst she sang them in Russian very nicely, trotting off on her hobby-horse to end an exhilarating evening.

To declare a special interest in that masterwork, long ago I produced an enthusiastically reviewed LP of these, sung with Steuart Bedford by my small son Simon Woolf in my own English adaptation of Mussorgsky's original version (which finishes very differently). We worked with the great Oda Slobodskaya, who had recorded them in old age, & met Gerald Abraham and David Lloyd-Jones on the project. We studied every recording, Boris Christoff's (in bizarre falsetto) & Irmgard Seefried (in German) outstanding in those days. Ours has been transferred to CD but in that form still awaits a record company to give it a new home; loan copies available on request.

Peter Grahame Woolf


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