Monday 16 October 2023

In glorious voice: Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen returns to Wigmore Hall for a programme of art songs by Grieg, Berg, Schubert and Sibelius

Lise Davidsen (Photo: James Hole)
Lise Davidsen (Photo: James Hole)

Grieg: Five Songs, Op. 69, Berg: Sieben frühe Lieder, Sibelius: Songs Op. 37,  Schubert; Lise Davidsen, James Baillieu; Wigmore Hall

The Norwegian soprano in glorious voice in a recital that mixed Schubert and early Berg with terrific songs by Grieg and Sibelius in Norwegian and Swedish.

Lise Davidsen made her recital debut at the Wigmore Hall back in 2017 since then the Norwegian soprano has been making waves on the operatic stage, but she obviously remains committed to art song and returned to Wigmore Hall on Friday 13 October 2023, after a significant gap, with pianist James Baillieu for a programme that included Grieg's Five Songs, Op. 69, Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder, Sibelius' songs Op. 37 and a selection of Schubert songs.

Not every dramatic soprano is comfortable in the song repertoire, and not every opera singer wants to explore the more direct, exposing world of art song, but Lise Davidsen definitely is and does. This was a complex and unusual programme, mixing the known and the unknown, and it worked because Davidsen was really invested in each and every song, and always finely partnered by Baillieu (who has a long-established partnership with her). Davidsen's voice might easily fill Wigmore Hall at climaxes, but she was well able to fine things down and what really came across was her skill as a story teller in song. It didn't matter that the words or even the language was unfamiliar (we had songs in Norwegian and Swedish), the communication was paramount.

We began with Grieg's Five Songs, Op. 69 setting poems by the Danish writer Otto Benzon, though the songs set Norwegian words the pieces are closer to European song than Grieg's Norwegian-inspired lyric pieces. In fact, Grieg would write ten settings of Benzon's poems, the second five being issued as his Op. 70, the final songs he wrote.

Der gynger en Båd på Bølge (A Boat on the Waves Is Rocking) was vividly changeable, with Davidsen and Baillieu capturing the complex emotions of the piece, and Davidsen really invested in the words. The tone was often rapturous, and she did not hold back at climaxes but also scaled things right down. Til min Dreng (To my son) was deceptively simple, yet engaging with Davidsen bringing a range of colours into her voice and telling us a story. Ved Moders Grav (At Mother's Grave) was sombre, yet very much Grieg in his own territory, and as the lyric melancholy moved to something more intense, so Davidsen's voice reached some glorious climaxes. Snegl, Snegl! (Snail, Snail) was lighter, a delightful piano part complemented by Davidsen's skittish vocal line. Finally, Drømme (Dreams), which was a far more complex piece than first appeared, beginning with a lovely, haunting Grieg melody. Davidsen and Baillieu gave a moving performance, beautifully subtle.

Berg's Seven Early Songs date from not much later than the Grieg songs, but the world is very different. These are sophisticated, lyrically expressionist works by a composer aware of the developments around him from composers like Mahler, Strauss and Wolf, and with a strong feeling for the idea of a vocal line. 

Nacht was highly atmospheric with Davidsen spinning a fine vocal line and Baillieu's piano far more than accompaniment, both brought an expressive range of colour to the quiet music. Schilflied was quietly intimate, Davidsen confiding in us but the screw tightens and we wondered what Lenau's strange poem might mean. Die Nachtigall was glorious. I loved the way that Davidsen coloured the words, and whilst she did not hold back at climaxes there was so much detail in the quieter moments too. Traumgekrönt was quiet, intense and dark, with a highly focused performance, whilst Im Zimmer had a far lighter feel, delightful and less expressionist than the other songs. Liebesode was stark and intense, building slowly through the song till all evaporated on the last word 'Sehnsucht!'. Finally, Sommertage, which plunged us straight in to a vivid yet complex world.

After the interval we stayed with German for a group of Schubert songs, keeping to the more well-known items. An die Musik was highly controlled, the emotions very interior, whilst Lachen und Weinen was lightly characterful, with the feeling of a dance. Die junge Nonne contrasted Baillieu's stormy piano with Davidsen's more focused vocal line, this young nun was tightly wound up and during the song Davidsen really heightened the tension. Gretchen am Spinnrade again contrasted a vivid piano part with more controlled vocal line, Davidsen giving us a terrific sense of propulsion through the song. Climaxes such as the end of verse seven and the end of the song were positively shocking, particularly the way Davidsen was able to fine her voice down to nothing. A terrific performance. Next came Erlkönig, and again Davidsen and Baillieu brought a fine sense of drama to the work. Davidsen brought out the differences in character between the voices in the song, without descending into pure theatricality. Despite the characterisation this was a serious, intent performance, with a vivid narrative and climaxes of remarkable vocal intensity. Finally, Davidsen and Baillieu ended this group with a simple, quietly intent account of Am Tage aller Seelen.

The closing group of songs returned to the early years of the 20th century for Sibelius' Five Songs, Op. 37. The songs set poems, in Swedish, by both Finnish and Swedish poets, and of course, Sibelius' mother tongue was Swedish. 

Den första kyssen (The First Kiss) was remarkable for the intensity and vibrancy of the performance, with Davidsen and Baillieu bringing so much into such a short song. Lasse liten (Little Lasse) was deceptively simple, Davidsen's controlled account of the rather folk-ish vocal line complemented by the more disturbing, wandering piano part. Soluppgång (Sunrise) began with lovely transparent piano introduction, then Davidsen unfolded a highly descriptive vocal line, colouring the words. Var det en dröm? (Was it a dream?) featured a vivid piano complementing Davidsen's intent performing, emotions bubbling over into rapturous moments. The final song of the set, Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte (The girl returned from meeting her lover) combined a big piano part with a rather chattering vocal line, yet the two performers imbued quite a simple narrative with complex emotions that Davidsen let bubble over as the story developed, leading to a lovely sting in the tail.

But the Sibelius group finished with one final song, Svarta rosor, (Black Roses) Op. 36 No. 1, another intense song full of vivid emotions, embodied in the darkly intense refrain 'For grief has roses black as night'. 

With performances as powerful and as idiomatic as these, Davidsen and Baillieu made you wonder why these terrific songs are not performed more. Davidsen's command of the nuance and colour of the language was wonderful, allied to a voice that could soar and whisper, always supported and partnered by Baillieu's wonderfully apt playing. We were treated to two encores, two further songs by Grieg.

It was clear that this recital was an occasion. The hall was full, with queues for returns, James Baillieu was wearing white tie and tails (not a common sight in the recital hall any more) whilst Lise Davidsen had two contrasting, wonderfully dramatic but not over-done outfits. The visuals complementing the aural splendour.

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Inspired by the Sea: composer Ed Bennett on the ideas behind Strange Waves, his large-scale immersive work eight-part multitracked cello & field recordings - interview
  • A lovely artist portrait: Dobrinka Tabakova's orchestral works featured on a new disc from the Hallé & Delyana Lazarova - record review
  • First Person: Sholto Kynoch, artistic director of Oxford International Song Festival, reflects on 22 years of festival making - feature
  • English song and a pizza! Kitty Whately and William Vann at Pizza Express Live at The Pheasantry in Chelsea - concert review
  • Britten's Peter GrimesJohn Findon takes the title role in ENO's magnificent revival of David Alden's production - opera review
  • Not quite Massenet the modernist; his late grand opera Ariane is full of wonderful things and intrigues in the way he weaves 19th and 20th century together - record review
  • Musical pleasure: strong & stylish performances from a young cast in English Touring Opera's new production of Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella) - opera review
  • Astonishing that no-one has heard or heard of the work: Ella Marchment on directing Camille Erlanger's L'Aube rouge at Wexford - interview
  • The flower fairies are back: Cal McCrystal's production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe for ENO fills the London Coliseum with colour, movement & comedy - opera review
  • Up Close & Stormy: Lucy Schaufer launches Up Close & Musical 2023 at the Fidelio Cafe - concert review
  • Offenbach's La princesse de Trébizonde from Opera Rara performed with wit & style, you can't help but be drawn in & have as much fun as the performers - record review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month