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Grieg songs 4852254
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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lise Davidsen (soprano)
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
rec. 5-8 September 2021, Stormen Konserthus, Bodø, Norway
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Reviewed as download from press preview.
DECCA 485 2254 [79:48]

Norwegian dramatic soprano Lise Davidsen has become one of the hottest new names on the vocal firmament within a couple of years, with two recital discs and participation in a complete recording of Fidelio among her credentials. It was only a matter of time before she would devote a disc to her great compatriot Edvard Grieg and his marvellous songs. Her sensitive singing of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder and Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder on the previous discs wetted the apetite for a pure song recital, and when she chose to collaborate with the masterly pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, things looked very promising. When I first put the disc into my player I was, to say the least, extremely concerned, even frightened. What I heard was a sound that didn’t remind me in the least of what I had hitherto heard of Lise Davidsen: a harsh, ugly sound in the highest reaches and a vibrato that made her sound like a prima donna long past her best. Her pianissimo singing and her delicious nuances were still intact, however, so I started to suspect that something was wrong with my equipment. I changed over to headphones, and as if by a stroke of magic the “old” Lise Davidsen was back, singing as gloriously as ever. Something had affected my loudspeakers, possibly as a result of our moving from our house to a new flat. What a relief!

What followed was 80 minutes of the most glorious singing of Grieg I had heard in a long time. Kirsten Flagstad was of course a legendary singer of Grieg. Her recording of Haugtussa from 1940 with Edwin McArthur was long a reference recording, and even her remake for Decca, with the same pianist, has much to recommend it – even though she by then (1956) was past 60. But in more recent times we have been vouchsafed excellent recordings from Anne Sofie von Otter, Monica Groop (her BIS-box with the complete songs by Grieg is a treasure trove for the real enthusiasts) and Katarina Karneus, and two Norwegians: Marianne Beate Kielland and Siri Karoline Thornhill. All of these are safe recommendations, and now Lise Davidsen joins this select company. With her golden tone and deep involvement she certainly has something individual to convey about this song cycle, Grieg’s only and arguably the best Nordic cycle on the whole. Arne Garborg’s Haugtussa, published in 1895, consists of 71 poems, of which Grieg initially chose twelve, which he finished within a month. In the end he cut four of them before they were published in 1898. In this shape it is a concentrated love story about a young herding girl, her first love affair and her first heartache. But parallell with this we also encounter the Norwegian landscape with blueberry slopes, dancing kids and swirling brooks. All this is caught with commendable distinction in the music, where the piano part plays an important role, sensitively executed by Leif Ove Andsnes.

The story unfolds from the soft and delicious portrait of the little maid (Veslemøy), her joy over finding the blueberries – but, if the big bear should come! – well, there is room for both of us, even the red fox and the evil wolf. But what about that handsome boy? And when he appears one Sunday, she doesn’t know what to say, just “You are so tall”! But it grows into a physical meeting, so wonderfully inwardly interpreted in Møte – this is lieder singing of real distinction. The lively and joyous Killingdans, illustrating the young girl’s exhilaration, is full of references to Norwegian folk music. But in Vond dag she sits there counting the days and hours until Sunday comes. But he doesn’t turn up, and crying, she realises she has lost him. Now she must die. And in the touching last song, she sits by the brook, just as the young man in Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. We don’t really get to know what she does. Her final words are: “Let me sleep, sleep!” Lise Davidsen’s reading is deeply sensitive and compassioned and the disc is well worth purchasing for Haugtussa alone.

But there are riches galore on the rest of this extremely well-filled CD. Two further groups of songs, neither too frequently heard. 5 Digte Op 69, settings of poems by Otto Benzon were issued in 1900 and was followed only by a further group of five songs by the same poet. And even though they may not be as inspired as his best songs, they are still valuable, and readers can rest assured that they can hardly be better interpreted. The 6 Lieder, Op 48, composed during the second half of the 1880s and published in 1889, stand out in his mature production as his only songs to texts by non-Scandinavians (Only his two earliest groups of songs, Op 2 and Op 4, were also settings of German poets). Here he throws his net widely, encompassing both Heine and Goethe as well as Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170 – c. 1230). The last of the six, Ein Traum, is very often sung in Norwegian translation, but Bodenstedt’s text is the original and it is good to have all six in such authoritative readings. Sprinkled in between the groups are a number of favourite songs that will surely be good selling points: En Svane and Med en Vandlilje, both to texts by Ibsen; Andersen’s Jeg elsker dig! And the lesser known Poesien and the Vinje settings Ved Rundane and, as an encore, Våren

Göran Forsling

1-8. Haugtussa, Op 67
9. En Svane
10. Med en Vandlilje
11. Til Én I
12. Til Én II
13. Jeg elsker dig!
14. Og jeg vil ha mig en Hjertenskjaer
15. Ved Rundane
16. Der gynger en Båd på Bølge
17. Til min Dreng
18. Ved Moders Grav
19. Snegl, Snegl!
20. Drømme
21. Poesien
22. Gruβ
23. Dereinst, Gedanke mein
24. Lauf der Welt
25. Die verschwiegene Nachtigall
26. Zur Rosenzeit
27. Ein Traum
28. Våren

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