Soprano Dawn Upshaw's recital yesterday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, as part of the Young Concert Artists series, presented this impressive singer to advantage. A program of Haydn, Richard Strauss, Poulenc, Mahler, Ives, Rachmaninoff and Schumann placed a variety of demands on her voice, which she met with little apparent difficulty. She moved from potent German lieder to airy French chansons to American songs bearing folk elements, showing little strain; in fact, she sounded strongest when performing the most challenging Rachmaninoff pieces at the recital's end.
One's first impression of Upshaw was that she possesses an appealing though light soprano voice with a somewhat constricted upper register. To be fair, the four opening Haydn songs were hardly dramatic. Three of Strauss' "Ophelia Lieder" allowed for more interpretive liberties, and Upshaw displayed good stage presence to match her vocals in depicting Shakespeare's mad heroine.
This poise carried over into four Mahler songs, cast in the pastoral love mode. An audience with itchy palms briefly interrupted "In Praise of High Minds," but quickly subsided after Upshaw widened her eyes to indicate that their enthusiasm was one verse early. The lighthearted number describing a voice contest between a cuckoo and nightingale judged by a donkey had two winners -- the cuckoo and Upshaw.
Three miniatures by Poulenc used lithe melodies that tested the singer's French diction, which lacked clarity. Her accompanist, Margo Garrett, excelled in laying out the moto perpetuo rhythms of "The Present" and the spiky chords supporting Ives's brief "Cage." Compatibility between voice and piano was absolute.