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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
‘Dich, teure Halle’ (Tannhäuser, Act II, Scene 1) [3:41]
‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau!’ (Tannhäuser, Act III, Scene 1 [7:33]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
‘Es gibt ein Reich (Ariadne auf Naxos) [6:36)
Vier Lieder, Op. 27 [14:59]
Wiegenlied, Op 41/1 [4:12]
Malven, TrV 287 (orch. Wolfgang Rihm) [3:02]
Vier letzte Lieder [23:01]
Lise Davidsen (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
rec. 2018, Henry Wood Hall, London
German texts, English & French translations included
DECCA 483 4883 [63:57]

Lise Davidsen’s singing has been greeted with superlatives in many quarters, not least from my colleagues here on MusicWeb International. The amplitude and steely timbre of her soprano puts me in mind of fellow Scandinavian predecessors Astrid Varnay and Birgit Nilsson, although, as I am sure she would be the first to agree, she has a long way to go before she could be admitted into such company as an equal. Her programme is a bold one: she opens with three big arias sufficient to test the mettle of any aspiring dramatic soprano, then stays with Strauss, moving on to half a dozen of his orchestrated songs and concluding with the greatest challenge of all in his Vier Letzte Lieder.

From a vocal, technical point of view, all the signs are good, from the secure, soaring high notes to a properly resonant low A-flat in the drop on “Totenreich” on the Ariadne aria. I am faintly bothered by her tic of deferring then swelling into the vibrato on sustained notes, which lends her tone a persistently plaintive air; there is a slight edge in her sound, too, which sometimes precludes the necessary warmth, but those are often characteristics of big, metallic voices of her type. Her breath control and legato are exemplary, too. Perhaps what is missing is a certain rapt or inner quality with the words; for my taste, she is too overt and demonstrative in her delivery of the text of “Morgen”, for example.

Excellent though it is, I do not think that the (relatively recently) orchestrated version of Strauss’ last song, Malven, does any more to raises it to the level of the Four Last Songs, but it certainly enhances it, and helps it function as an appetiser for the feast to follow.

Davidsen sings those Four Last Songs confidently, with full tone, although the little tic of swelling on phrases becomes repetitive – Lucia Popp sometimes did it, too – and impedes the variety of expression the words demand. In a sense, Davidsen sings through these songs boldly and beautifully but without the nuance the greatest exponents bring to the words; perhaps it would be unreasonable to expect more from so comparative young an artist with so large a voice but the directness of her manner is certainly preferable to primping and fussing. Salonen and the Philharmonia are at their best in these songs; the solo violin is once again ravishing and the orchestra creates a warm cushion of sound for her voice to float on. The sense of timelessness only aspired to and only intermittently achieved in the previous songs is a sustained feature of the playing throughout all four here.

The engineering here is impeccable: perfect balance between the voice and instruments and proper, but not undue, prominence for the solo violin and horn. Salonen’s accompaniment is refined and sensitive, although I would welcome a little more propulsive tension in "Es gibt ein Reich".

My fears that voices of real quality are becoming increasingly rare have been assuaged somewhat by the advent of three sopranos over recent years: Dinara Alieva, Veronika Dzhioeva and now Lise Davidsen; perhaps rumours of the demise of the diva are premature.

Ralph Moore
Previous reviews: John Quinn ~ Colin Clarke (Recording of the Month)

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