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Recording of the month

A voice to cherish

Dawn Upshaw sings
Messiaen, Debussy,
Golijov and Fauré -
recommended by

'... a great disc!'

Dawn Upshaw with Gilbert Kalish, piano - Voices of Light - Music of Messiaen, Debussy, Golijov and Fauré. © 2004 Nonesuch Records Inc/WEA International Inc

Strange how some voices provoke the most illogically stubborn response. I understand there are aliens from another universe somewhere amongst us who cannot endure the overwhelming expressiveness of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I have a problem with the inescapable self-promotion of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's beauty of tone but archness of interpretation. A lot of sensible-seeming music lovers doubt the value of Dawn Upshaw's beguilingly transitional voice -- one moment 'butter-wouldn't-melt' in Mozart and, without an unwanted aspiration between, the next a lusty torch-bearer in Sondheim. I'm not with them! So -- cards on the table -- I've relished most of what I've heard from her. It's not always spot-on perfectly executed but it's mostly perfectly judged. I rate it as a voice we ought to cherish.

Voices of Light is a very special recital programme of Messiaen, Fauré and Debussy with a wonderful (and typical) exercise in the unsuspected thrown in for -- well, love, really. The inspiration came from an encounter with director, Peter Sellars at the Salzburg Festival production of Messiaen's Francis of Assisi opera. From that grew a renewed interest in an area of French repertoire that held a sense of the luminous, the radiant, the shifting and ambiguous sense of experience providing a link between sacred and secular devotion -- to The Other or, simply, another.

Messiaen begins the trail with a song from Poèmes pour Mi : Le Collier. The near-improvisatory chords in the accompaniment render the composer immediately recognisable. The indisputable sensuality of the setting (the composer's own text) hints at the larger issue of the possible hoax of spirituality that leaves some of us a little uneasy with squaring-up to Messiaen. Most of his best music seems to be written directly under the influence of his most unrestrained, most human, passions. I've never bought-in to the idea of testosterone transmuted into religious ecstasy. Dawn Upshaw doesn't need to put her doubts into words -- she has her way with the words on offer and she makes them blessedly (one hopes) human and bedroom-bound.

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Copyright © 2 March 2005 David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK


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