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Lise Davidsen (soprano)
Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder
rec. 2020, London and Watford, England. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
Reviewed as downloaded from digital press preview
DECCA 4851507 [63:28]

Lise Davidsen is a young Norwegian soprano and at present one of the most exciting voices on the planet. Born in 1987 she burst onto the operatic scene after winning the Operalia competition, in London in 2015, with a towering performance of Wagner’s ‘Dich Teure Halle’ from Tannhäuser. Few, if any, young operatic artists have won so many prizes or been so critically acclaimed as Lise Davidsen. Reviewing her Decca debut album, featuring Strauss’s Four Last Songs, Hugo Shirley wrote in Gramophone: ‘this album only reinforces the fact that she [Davidsen] is one of the greatest vocal talents to have emerged in recent years, if not decades.’ (Decca 4834883: Recording of the Month – review review review). I quote the sentence because I think that it summarises the grandeur of her voice.

To stamp Davidsen’s voice as extraordinary is in her case almost an understatement. Her voice is indeed extraordinary but one quickly runs out of adjectives to qualify it. It is powerful, lavish, dramatic, sensitive, warm, cutting edge … and I could go on. Perhaps it is best to simply state her voice is unique, dazzling and potent, vigorous and flexible all at the same time – a one-in-a-generation voice, as captured in the booklet introduction to this recital. Her high notes are a true powerhouse. Her singing sounds fearless and indomitable, in one word heroic. With a remarkable, magnetic presence, a warm smile and glittering eyes she stands 1.88 metres tall and dominates the stage completely. Singing appears uncomplicated for her. She simply opens her mouth and sings, as if talking to a friend while walking in the park.

Lise Davidsen is a force of nature and whenever she performs – be it Verdi, Beethoven, Mascagni or Wagner (to name just a few composers) – she impresses. Her voice takes you by surprise and overwhelms you, sends shivers down your spine and makes your skin gain goosebumps. I have watched and heard her live on the stage of the Royal Opera House in Beethoven’s Fidelio and in a recital that was part of the Met Opera Stars Live in Concert Series. I also listened to her first recording (her debut album, featuring Strauss’s Four Last Songs). In all instances she is magnificent every step of the way. The present download is her second album and no exception to what I say above. It will also be launched as a CD on 26th March.

Davidsen starts the recital with Beethoven. First Leonora’s aria ‘Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?’ from Fidelio. A challenging piece that suits her voice, allowing her rich tone to really come into its own. She negotiates it beautifully and it flows naturally, compelling and mighty, without a glitch. The second piece, ‘Ah! perfido’, a concert scene and aria for soprano and orchestra on a text by Pietro Metastasio, was written when Beethoven was working on the first version of Fidelio. Davidsen is equally impressive in this piece which again is an excellent vehicle for her vocal talent.

Beethoven is followed by an aria from Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, a role Davidsen sang in 2017 at the Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland. She delivers the aria with fluid quality and is as splendid as ever. After Medea comes the poignantly beautiful Santuzza’s aria ‘Voi lo sapete, o mamma’ from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana. Joined by mezzo Rosalind Plowright as Lucia, Davidsen gives one of the finest performances of this piece that I have ever heard. It is not just the sheer power of her voice and magnificent high notes, it is also the heart-breaking drama, the sadness, the character’s desperation that come across and hit you. It’s remarkable; visceral in its intensity.

Davidsen says in the booklet notes that the present recital is ‘an album designed to take me from one place to the next.’ So there are the roles she has already sung and the parts that she sees herself tackle in the next five years. She states that although she knows she will eventually become a Wagnerian she doesn’t wish to be pigeonholed too early in her career. These are the reasons for the pieces she chose to interpret next. First two Verdi arias, both prayers but very different in nature: ‘Pace, pace mio Dio!’ from La forza del destino and ‘Ave Maria, piena di grazia’ from Otello. Her singing, her technique and interpretation are, as always, remarkable to say the least. The level of sentiment and the expression of emotion are simply sublime, especially in the exquisite ‘Ave Maria’ from Otello. Davidsen achieves the right balance of tenderness and sorrow. There’s heartache and we feel it; we know this woman is aware she will die soon. And so, after Verdi, we come to the end of this glittering recital with Wagner’s marvellous Wesendonck-Lieder. Needless to say that Lise Davidsen excels. Her performance is excruciatingly beautiful both in the interpretation and the technical merit.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Sir Mark Elder do an outstanding job of accompanying Davidsen’s musical and singing prowess. They seem to relish the opportunity of performing with an artist of her calibre and this joyful rapport is hearable, making it an elegant and exceptional experience.

I must say that I loved this recital. I have long been an admirer of Davidsen’s singing and the present recording does not disappoint. It is every bit as admirable as any of her live performances that I had the privilege to see and hear. The album is a good concept, neatly and attractively packaged. The booklet contains an introduction and the texts to all pieces in the original, with translations in English, French and/or German depending on the singing language. I have listened to the download via the Bluetooth device in my computer connected to my Hi-Fi system and the sound is especially clear and powerful, giving you the impression Davidsen and the orchestra are in the room with you. Possibly the next best thing to a live on stage recital. I also listened to it once on my computer and once on my smart phone. It is still very good but it lacks the power and thrill of the Bluetooth via the Hi-Fi.

As mentioned earlier, the CD of this download will be launched on 26th March. Whether on disc or download will depend on one’s preference, but this recital is one to buy, cherish and enjoy repeatedly. I for one don’t think I’ll easily tire of listening to Lise Davidsen’s extraordinary, dazzling, vibrant and beautiful voice.

Margarida Mota-Bull
Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at Flowingprose.com


Full listings:

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?, from Fidelio (final version 1814) [7:22]
Ah! perfido, Scene and Aria for soprano and orchestra (1796) [12:05]
    “Ah! perfido, spergiuro…” (Allegro con brio) [3:20]
    “Per pieta, non dirmi addio!” (Adagio) [4:52]
    “Ah crudel! tu vuoi ch’io mora!” (Allegro assai) [4:33]
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760–1842)
Dei tuoi figli la madre, from Medea (1797) [4:17]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Voi lo sapete, o mamma, from Cavalleria rusticana (1890) [6:49] with Rosalind Plowright (mezzo) as Lucia
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Pace, pace mio Dio!, from La forza del destino (1862, revised version 1869) [5:53]
Ave Maria, piena di grazia, from Otello (1887) [5:39]
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
5 Gedichte für eine Frauenstimme “Wesendonck-Lieder”, Text by Mathilde Wesendonck
    I. Der Engel [3:09] with solo violin by Pieter Schoeman
    II. Stehe still! [3:52]
    III. Im Treibhaus [6:16]
    IV. Schmerzen [2:26]
    V. Träume [4:58]

 

 



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