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Dip Your Ears, No. 251 (Meet Lise Davidsen, the next Hochdramatische)

available at Amazon
Lise Davidsen sings Wagner & Strauss
Philharmonia, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Make no mistake about it: The young Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, from little Stokke at the southern end of the Oslofjord, is *the* “Hochdramatische” of the near future. That much has been clear pretty much from the moment she stepped onto the stage of the Zurich Opera earlier this year, to give her first performance of Elizabeth in Wagner’s Tannhäuser – which she has already since reprised the rôle at the Munich Opera and the Bayreuth Festival. This debut recording on Decca, with the first-class backing of the Philharmonia under Esa-Pekka Salonen, cements the impression. If she’s the future, though, that’s not to say she has already arrived. As much as the Wagner and Strauss bits on this disc give her an opportunity to display her grand, blossoming voice, they also suggest that she hasn’t that much to say, yet. Her raw talent – at the base of which lies her effortlessly big, steely, single-edged voice – needs yet to be tempered by character or, barring that, depth of characterization. Especially in the opening “Dich, teure Halle”, Elisabeth’s prime cut aria in Tannhäuser, Davidsen comes across as shrill and overly dramatic, like someone with something to prove… more intent on shattering the Wartburg’s crown glass windows than expressing joyous anticipation and the lifting of a long-carried burden.

[Robert Levine's ClassicsToday review, similar but ultimately coming down more positively, can be found here: Magnificent Debut Recital By Lise Davidsen]

At the best of times, her voice gleams and shimmers like a Damascus steel: Hard but gleaming. Impressive? Very much. Pleasant? Not really. When she drops down to strike softer tones, though – towards the end of “Allmächt'ge Jungfrau, hör mein Flehen!”, the improvement is striking. That’s not really surprising, because it nearly always is highly impressive to hear huge voices sing softly. It’s what makes Jessye Norman’s account of Strauss’ Four Last Songs, despite glacial tempos, so marvelous: High-powered stratospheric lightness. There are hints of this in “Morgen!”, the iconic last of the Four [not last!] Songs op.27, where Salonen’s and the Philharmonia’s diaphanous garment drape Davidsen’s concentrated (rather pointed and slightly forced) ease to a combined gorgeous effect. The warmth that creeps into her voice for “Wiegenlied” is even more heartening, because it suggests that Davidsen’s palette is much wider than what is, for the most part, on show here. Her Four Last Songs, finally, are promising but not enough in their mildly anodyne ways to nudge any of your favorites off their pedestal. Not the double-creamy Norman, not the historical gem that is Lisa Della Casa’s much lighter, gleaming take, nor Janowitz with her voice of flattened silver. In songs like “Morgen”, “Cäcilie”, and “Wiegenlied”, the exuberant agility and sheer lust for life of a youngish Diana Damrau is far more gratifying. But if you want to hear the next big thing in this (and heavier) Fach, listen closely to Lise Davidsen all the same.


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