Dawn Upshaw-The girl with orange lips

Author: 
hfinch

Dawn Upshaw-The girl with orange lips

  • Psyché
  • (3) Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé
  • (3) Japanese Lyrics
  • (2) Poems of Konstantin Bal'mont
  • (4) Poèmes hindous
  • Where Grief Slumbers

The Girl with Orange Lips, shadowed with fern-leaves from the New York botanical garden, is Dawn Upshaw: or is she? Little is told of the singer or the song, to say nothing of the instrumentalists, in a programme surely rare and strange enough to deserve more documentation.
Upshaw's inspiration for the disc seems to have been taken from a concert, presumably in Paris, on January 14th, 1914, in which the Quatre poemes hindous of Maurice Delage, the poems Mallarme poems of Ravel and the Three Japanese Lyrics of Stravinsky were all given their first performances. With an ear to the interfertilization of instrumentation between the three—minimalist filigrees of string quartet writing, pungent woodwind and sensuous harp—the disc has been filled out with works which breathe the same air, including a new chamber version of Earl Kim's Where Grief Slumbers. (We are told nothing of Earl Kim apart from his self-evident admiration of Beckett's translations of Rimbaud and Apollinaire.)
A true mystery tour, then, and not without its considerable magic. It starts with Falla's tiny cantata, Psyche, the voice, like the Soul, awakening from a plain-chanting distance to the deliquescent harmonies of Ravel-tinted flute, harp and strings. Here, and in the poems Mallarme poems, the youth and naivety of Upshaw's soprano timbre, and its alarmingly pure highest notes, brings a telling sensuality all its own to these settings.
It was Stravinsky's Japanese Lyrics which inspired the Ravel; and the complex instrumental images thrumming through the ardent vocal line make for a violent spring as evoked in these three haikus. Stravinsky's Two Poems of Konstantin Bal'mont are tackled equally artfully: tiny suggestions, nothing more, of Forget-me-not and Dove. Earl Kim, working in a similar, though less restrained, sound world, sets seven poems of Rimbaud and Apollinaire in Beckett's English translations. Upshaw shows herself as sensitive to the audio-visual formation of Apollinaire's rain poems as to the emotional energy of Kim's word-setting in ''from Drunken boat''. ''The Girl with Orange Lips'', half-spoken, is a disappointing piece of travelogue erotica.
The Delage songs, though, are a great bonus. Totally French, yet authentically Indian (they were composed on location, in the company of his businessman father), they include a haunting setting of Heine's ''Isolated Pine'' (Ein Fichtenbaum), complete with cello as sitar and a postlude of wild vocalise.'

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