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Voices of Light
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) Le Collier [3:46], l’Escalier redit, gestes du soleil [6:37], Amour oiseau d’étoile [4:16], Prière exaucée [3:04], Résurrection [4:02]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Chansons de Bilitis: La Flûte de Pan [2:49], La Chevelure [3:45], Le tombeau des naïads [2:49]
Osvaldo GOLIJOV (b. 1960)
Lúa descolorida [5:37]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
La Chanson d’Ève: I. Paradis [7:14], II. Prima verba [2:30], III. Roses ardentes [1:16], IV. Comme Dieu rayonne [2:24], V. L’Aube blanche [1:08], VI. Eau vivante [1:33], VII. Veilles-tu, ma senteur de soleil? [1:36], VIII. Dans un parfum de roses blanches [2:06], IX. Crépuscule [2:36], X. Ô mort, poussière d’étoiles [2:36] 
Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Gilbert Kalish (piano)
Recorded May 17-18, 2003 at Theater C, SUNY, Purchase, New York
(Debussy, Fauré and Golijov), December 21-22, 1997 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City (Messiaen) DDD
NONESUCH 7559-79812-2 [61’46”]


This might be my favorite Dawn Upshaw recording since Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and The Girl With Orange Lips, two of her most imaginative compilations.  Voices of Light certainly shows the singer in effortless form, and the sensitive keyboard contribution from Gilbert Kalish is a joy.  Throughout the program, my listening notes are peppered with “wow.”  The program is anchored by soft-hued French sets from Debussy and Fauré, and the latter’s La Chanson d’Ève might be the highlight of the entire recording.  Upshaw’s creamy tone is perfectly suited to these songs, her feather-light touch capturing the essence of this composer, and again, I can’t praise Kalish enough.  His support is the kind that makes the word “accompaniment” sound inadequate; he’s much more of a partner with Upshaw, right up there with her. 

The dreamy Debussy is often recorded and is perhaps the best-known set here.  I’ve enjoyed versions by Renée Fleming and Barbara Hendricks, just to cite two, but I like Upshaw’s feeling for these as much as any I’ve heard.  Upshaw’s purity is an asset here, especially in the languidly alluring “La Chevelure.”

In between are songs by Messiaen and a single one by Golijov, which provide good textural breaks between the two more ephemeral bookends.  The Golijov, which translates as “Moon, Colorless,” has the flavor of a luminous folksong, and shows Upshaw in great empathy with this idiom as well.  (Those who respond to this may want to investigate her recording of the Canteloube Chants d’ Auvergne.)  It is much more simple, harmonically speaking, than the items on either side of it – rather canny programming. 

Upshaw shows a great affinity for Messiaen, as anyone who heard her in Saint François d'Assise (recorded live from the Salzburg Festival on Deutsche
Grammophon) will know.  The five selections here are flooded with the composer’s typical ardor and religious ecstasy, especially the “L’Escalier redit,” in which the singer and pianist intertwine “headlong in the ecstatic fulfillment they will find in death.”  But of the group, Upshaw saves the best one, “Résurrection,” from Chants de terre et de ciel (1938) until the very end.  In a thrilling ascent, she reaches the song’s rapturous climax: Parfum, porte, perle, lavez-vous dans la Vérité/Perfume, door, pearl, wash yourselves in the Truth!  Upshaw’s clear, natural-sounding delivery suits this music perfectly, and I know I’ll be returning to this often. 

The recording is intimate and clear, totally enhancing these artists’ work, and Nonesuch has provided its usual finely designed packaging, as well as complete texts and insightful notes by Michael Steinberg, including an introduction from Ms. Upshaw.  For lovers of the singer, of Mr. Kalish, or the program, this is a light-filled gift indeed. 

Bruce Hodges


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