Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 9
This almost knocked me over. I truly have not heard a voice of this grandeur in years: it sounds as if it’s enormous, the tone is beautiful, the registers unbroken. The focus is almost Nilsson-like but by leaning slightly on the tone she brings a warm glow, and I defy anyone to find a weak spot or unsupported note. Add to that the sheer allure of the voice—womanly and colorful.
The pair of scenes from Tannhäuser make for a perfect curtain raiser: in “Dich teure Halle”, Davidsen is like a filly just out of the paddock—energetic, excited, and pure bred—and Elisabeth’s Prayer is inward and mellow. But the meat of the program is Strauss. One longs to hear “Es gibt ein Reich” sung with the ease and anticipation she brings to it—with the ascents to B-flats so perfect that they gleam. Of the Four Songs Op. 27 “Ruhe, meine Seele!” draws a hesitant narrative, “Cäcilie” soars ecstatically, and one can only wonder at her reading of “Morgen!”, hushed throughout and seemingly in one breath, the final words, “true bliss”, brilliantly colored.
“Wiegenlied” is sung at a lovely sway, with the tone gentle, but I kept hearing Jessye Norman’s performance in my head—it is the aural equivalent of a pillow—and Maestro Salonen’s accompaniment here sounds distracted. “Malven” is sung at almost half-voice throughout, and lovely it is, but it is a song that never quite sounds right.
I remembered with the start of “Frühling” that the Four Last Songs were written to be sung by Kirsten Flagstad, and that the only other singer whose voice had similar breadth in the CD era has been Jessye Norman (for the most part, the finest interpreters of these songs are somewhat lighter voices—Gundula Janowitz, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, etc.). Well, Davidsen’s voice is decidedly dramatic, and in the middle of her voice (just listen to “September”) she sounds much like Flagstad. (I’m not judging by Flagstad’s recording of the Four Last Songs which are sunset performances, in terrible sound; rather, earlier recordings.)
These Four are taken about as slowly as possible, within seconds of the Schwarzkopf/Szell recording. Only Norman and Kurt Masur take longer. But there is little sense of lingering. You get the feeling that Salonen is emotionally elsewhere. There is, say, a lack of rapture in the last stanza of “Beim Schlafengehen”—the notes are all there but the sense of taking wing is absent. In “Im Abendrot” the center does not hold; there’s an emotional lull, very hard to explain but it can be heard. There is nothing eccentric about these performances and they never turn cold, but I was looking for transcendence and did not find it; I suspect Salonen is the culprit-by-lack-of-focus.
But I don’t wish to dissuade anyone from checking this out. Davidsen is a phenomenon, a singer with a technique so solid that her singing is utterly devoid of trickery. She has a habit of starting a note straight, without vibrato and then expanding it—it reminds me of Nilsson; and the way she releases high notes, just like “that”, is thrilling. And the voice never loses color, not even in quiet singing.
My advice: get in at the start. She’s great and I bet she’ll only get better.
Buy Now from Arkiv Music
Recording Details:Reference Recording: Janowitz/Karajan (DG); Schwarzkopf/Szell (EMI); Norman/Masur (Philips)
- Lise Davidsen (mezzo-soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Saolnen
- Decca - 4834883