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Briefly Noted: Lise Davidsen and Leif Ove Andsnes

available at Amazon
E. Grieg, Haugtussa / Songs, L. Davidsen, L. O. Andsnes

(released on January 7, 2022)
Decca 00028948526543 | 75'32"
Soprano Lise Davidsen lifted my spirits during the pandemic, with an extraordinary recital for Vocal Arts DC that, even though it was virtual, was one of my favorite performances of 2021. That program included a wonderful rendition of Edvard Grieg's Sechs Lieder, op. 48, on German poetry and in a German romantic vein. As it turned out, it was also a tease for her new release, a beguiling recital of songs by Norway's most beloved composer. To seal the deal, the Norwegian soprano partnered with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The two musicians, working together for the first time, recorded the album last September in the town of Bodø in the Arctic Circle, where a new cultural center, the Stormen Konserthus, opened in 2014.

This collection supplants what was up to this point my reference recording for the Grieg songs, by Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg from the 1990s. This disc, like that one, is anchored on Grieg's only song cycle, the mysterious Haugtussa (The Fairy Maid), with poetry by Arne Garborg in Nynorsk, the New Norwegian that had been reinstated after Norway had finally regained its independence from Denmark. Davidsen sings with both shimmering transparency and, where needed, overwhelming power, incarnating the voice of Veslemøy, the young Norwegian girl with psychic powers. Andsnes accompanies with sensitivity and variety of tone, including magical flourishes upward in "Det syng," impetuous shifts of mood in "Blåbær-Li" and "Killingdans," and tender longing in "Møte." The lover's betrayal of the girl and her suicide in the brook in the final two songs are heart-breaking.

Grieg's nationalist reputation lies in his interest in Norwegian folk music, but living as he was in the period just after Norway's independence, this song cycle and other songs in Nynorsk are just as important. The other songs on this disc range widely in style, from the forlorn "En Svane" to the rousing "Og jeg vil ha mig en Hjertenskjær," where both Davidsen and Andsnes test the forceful dynamic power of their respective instruments to thrilling effect. In addition to gorgeous excerpts from various collections, the album comprises complete performances of the folk music-inspired Five Songs, op. 69, including the very moving poem and music for "Ved Moders Grav" (At Mother's Grave) and the playful "Snegl, Snegl!" (Snail, Snail!). The aforementioned six German songs, op. 48, are just as poignant as remembered from Davidsen's virtual recital, but with more powerful contributions from Andsnes at the keyboard.

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