She needed no warm-up for the opening quintet of touching and nostalgic Ives songs, four of them being settings of his own poems, "Tom Sails Away" quoting "Over There," "Down East" quoting "Nearer My God to Thee." She said she'd learned these from listening to recordings made by Kalish and his late partner, the now legendary Jan de Gaetani. Upshaw too sings these with an admirable directness, honesty, and wit. They were my favorite part of the concert. When a hearing aid began to beep, she stopped and talked about the program while we waited for the thing to be fixed. Then she resumed as if nothing had happened. She was also the celebrity page turner for Kalish's eloquent rendering of the gentle "Alcotts" movement from Ives's Concord Sonata.
The first half concluded with French songs by Fauré, Debussy, Ravel (the comic "Le cygnet"), and Messiaen (two selections from Poèmes pour Mi, neither one among the ones Renée Fleming sang here last month). Upshaw seems to put her whole being into everything she sings (at times, as in the Debussy, at the expense of some subtlety), and she brought out the religious fervor in these love songs.
In the second half, she sang Osvaldo Golijov's intense lament "Lúa descolorida" ("Moon, colorless"), which she said she's sung more than any other song. Golijov was present and was also cheered. Then she sang the Boston premiere of Michael Ward-Bergeman's Treny (Laments), a setting of the great 16th-century Polish poet Jan Kochanowski's poignant lamentations over the death of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter (in Ward-Bergeman's words, "his nightingale daughter") that had been commissioned by the Terezín Chamber Music Foundation. The composer accompanied on the "hyper-accordion," along with flutist Laura Heinrichs's nightingale and cellist Guy Fishman. Veering between haunting folk tune and contemporary cacophony, the piece probably would have been better shorter, closing with Upshaw's final unaccompanied ululation.
She ended with three William Bolcom/Arnold Weinstein cabaret songs, audience favorites (to me, weak imitation Brecht/Weill). Her encores began with yet another: "George" ("Call me Georgia, hon"), a reductive image of a gay stereotype by artists who should know better. Finally there was Schubert's sublime "Im Frühling," which celebrates spring and love, "two of my favorite things," Upshaw confessed.