Review: Soprano Lise Davidsen shines on solo debut

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Lise Davidsen (conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Philharmonia Orchestra), "Lise Davidsen" (Decca)

 

 

For a young singer as prodigiously gifted as Lise Davidsen, there's always a danger she'll be pressured into taking on too much too soon. Judging from the Norwegian soprano's first solo album, she's steering clear of that pitfall.

Only 32, Davidsen is being hailed as the next great Wagnerian soprano because of her clarion, multi-colored voice with its seemingly unlimited capacity to soar over heavy orchestration. The twin peaks of that repertory — Isolde and Brünnhilde — surely await her, yet on this album she has wisely chosen only works she's already performed onstage.

There are just two Wagner excerpts: Elisabeth's arias from "Tannhäuser," the opera that will serve for her debut this summer at the composer's shrine in Bayreuth, Germany. Dramatically, the pieces couldn't be more different. In "Dich teure Halle," the heroine's exuberant greeting to the Hall of Song, Davidsen caps the conclusion with a ringing high B natural. The second aria, "Allmächt'ge Jungfrau," is a somber prayer at the point of death, and Davidsen sings it with restraint, though her gleaming tone once or twice threatens to overpower the muted accompaniment.

Richard Strauss' opera "Ariadne auf Naxos" has served as Davidsen's calling card in the last few years, and she delivers thrills in the wide-ranging vocal line of the title character's aria, "Es gibt ein Reich."

Strauss is also the composer of the remaining offerings on the album, primarily two sets of songs representing his early maturity and the end of his career. The four pieces of Opus 27 from 1894 were wedding gifts for his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna. Davidsen shows her versatility here, meeting the operatic demands of "Cäcilie" with ease and then scaling down her voice to suit the delicate texture of "Morgen!"

The album ends with the elegiac "Four Last Songs" from 1948, just a year before the composer's death at age 85. While more experienced sopranos have perhaps brought greater interpretive depth to these songs, the purity and flexibility of Davidsen's voice carry the day here.

 

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