|The divine Miss Upshaw|
Dawn Upshaw and Gilbert Kalish made a persuasive case last night for the off-kilter genius of Charles Ives. Upshaw sang a generous selection of fourteen songs – twice as many as I expected from the program online – and, after an intermission that featured a free ice cream tasting, Kalish returned for a masterful performance of Ives’s labyrinthine Concord Sonata.
Kalish seems to respond best to Ives’s modernist side, and he was especially effective in the first half of the sonata. The “Emerson” movement was magnificent, and “Hawthorne” was a wild rush of a storm. The last two sections – the homely “Alcotts” and the contemplative “Thoreau” – fared less well. They could have been softer, and the entrance of Edward Schultz’s flute in “Thoreau” could have been more clearly articulated, but these are minor complaints.
In the first half, Upshaw was a delightfully spunky guide to the Ives universe, which is alternately corny, exuberant, wry, angry and reverent. After the recital, she said she was apprehensive about singing “Like a Sick Eagle” back to back with “Memories,” as Kalish had insisted, but, she said, in art as in in life, the tragic and the funny get mixed up. “Eagle” was the one spot where she faltered, forgetting a line and ad libbing one of her own. It was distracting, though she still managed to give me chills by the end. At other moments her voice seemed strained, but she was a witty interpreter, using her face and body to turn the lyrics into stories. In “The Circus Band,” the last song in the set, she become an excited little boy, craning her neck and going up on her toes to see over the heads of an imaginary crowd in the street. And her “Housatonic at Stockbridge,” when she simply planted herself on the stage and sang, was perfection.
One thing about the performance space at the American Philosophical Society. Or two: The acoustics were better than I had hoped for, and it was fitting – inspiring, really – that the music of an American giant should be performed beneath portraits of Jefferson, Franklin and Washington.