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Dawn Upshaw, one of America's best-loved and most acclaimed sopranos, lends her voice to music by two masters of the Baroque, J.S. Bach and Henry Purcell. Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was one of the most prodigious composers of the Baroque, and the leading composer of his day in England. Upshaw performs a selection of Purcell's most famous and important works for voice, including "The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation" and "If Music Be The Food Of Love". As well-documented as Bach's enormous output has been through the ages, his dramatic cantata "Mein Herz schwimmt im Blut" was lost until the early 20th century. Upshaw performed the cantata in a specially-commissioned version staged by director Peter Sellars during a landmark series of concerts at New York's 92nd St. Y during the 1995-96 season, and here commits it to record at last.
Soprano Dawn Upshaw's programs are always interesting, and this one's a beauty: one of Bach's most heartfelt cantatas flanked by songs and arias of Purcell. For the most part, she's in excellent voice, but with the tics that make some demur from enthusiasm: occasional swooping, thinning of the voice in the upper regions, lapses into a "Broadway" type of vocalism, and diction problems. The latter, oddly enough, are as present in Purcell's English as in Bach's German, as in the way Upshaw lands heavily on the r with a broad American accent rather than the lightly rolled r we're used to in performances of period English music. There's also some broad word-painting in the Bach, whose text, charting the soul's journey from sin to redemption, really needs no extra emoting. That said, Upshaw's fans will love this disc, and even those who prefer a different approach will enjoy it. Accompaniments are excellent: a continuo team in the Purcell, a small chamber group in the Bach. Outstanding sonics, too. --Dan Davis