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Recordings

Decca 4834883
31 May 2019

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Lise Davidsen (soprano), Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor), Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra

Decca 4834883 [CD]

$12.59  Click to buy

Besides her Norwegian roots, she shares with the distinguished Wagnerian soprano a warm, gold-flecked timbre and full, incandescent top notes. Hers is a Rolls-Royce among voices. Now in her early thirties, Davidsen’s schedule is already booked up with engagements at A-list opera houses. This is not the first record she appears on, but it is her debut solo album for Decca, with whom she has an exclusive contract. With two Wagner arias and familiar songs by Richard Strauss, the program contains no surprises, just Davidsen claiming the repertoire that is her birthright by virtue of her exceptional talent.

The recital opens with Elisabeth’s two arias from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, a role in which the soprano will make her Bayreuth debut this year. With big dramatic voices there is always the challenge of capturing their full breadth on recordings. It’s like trying to stuff a silk parachute into a matchbox. Climactic notes, such as at the conclusion of Dich, teure Halle, are indeed too resonant for mere living room speakers to handle. But, on the whole, the technical team has done an excellent job, beautifully preserving Davidsen’s velvety warmth. In Elizabeth’s prayer, she sustains the measured lines with no difficulty, but also evokes the pathos, if not the fragility, of this broken woman. Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra accompany her in Wagner with athletic vigor and in Strauss with bright, glinting colors, but this recital is all about the diva. If the Wagner excerpts hold the promise of memorable Elizabeths, Elsas and heavier roles such as Isolde, the sole Strauss aria, from Ariadne auf Naxos, benefits from Davidsen already having sung the role in staged productions, including ones at Glyndebourne and Aix en Provence. She sings Es gibt ein Reich sumptuously, but also with nuance and a tinge of melancholy that lingers. She brings the same gorgeous wistfulness to orchestrated songs by Strauss such as Ruhe, meine Seele! and Morgen. Meeting the narrative demands of Heimliche Aufforderung, Davidsen emerges as an intelligent painter of text, and her voice bursts effortlessly in the rapturous Cäcilie.

In Malven, the very last song Strauss composed, the voice is lightened against Wolfgang Rihm’s 2012 orchestration, which evokes summer flowers teased by the wind. There are several fine interpretations of Strauss’s Four Last Songs (technically, the last four but one), but this one joins the list of those most gorgeously sung. There is no register or hue in which Davidsen’s voice doesn’t ripple, glide and soar, making any voice-loving heart skip a beat or two. No doubt she will sing these songs of introspection and resignation many times and on many stages and her insight into them will deepen with age and experience. But, catching her in youthful opulent freshness, this transfixing account will demand to be played over and over again. In fact, the whole recording invites unabashed wallowing in a rare voice coupled with the communicative power of a true artist. So wallow away, and let’s hope that, even though the golden times of studio recordings are long gone, this will be one of many tracking the path of this golden voice.

Jenny Camilleri

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