Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

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

Jenny Camilleri

image_description=Decca 4834883
product_title=Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss
product_by=Lise Davidsen (soprano), Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor), Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra
product_id=Decca 4834883 [CD]