Just two years after her dazzling debut recording of Wagner and Strauss arias, Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen follows it up with yet another whopper. Teaming up with Sir Mark Elder and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Davidsen more than consolidates her reputation as her generation’s leading dramatic soprano. 

Lise Davidsen

She comes bursting out of the gate with Leonore’s Abscheulicher! from Beethoven’s Fidelio, a role in which she was being lauded for at Covent Garden just before COVID brought everything to a grinding halt. A passionate, vehement Leonore, the opening exclamations are near-explosive, Davidsen negotiating the registers and difficult phrases with aplomb. Her complex sound is evenly and effortlessly produced, an exceptional Elder and the LPO seeming to breathe with her.

Although her cooler tone and facility with the language finds her more at home in German repertoire, the disc’s Italian numbers benefit from her polish and fierceness of attack. Her rendition of Beethoven’s concert aria Ah! Perfido is just as gripping as the disc’s opener, the opening lines imperious and ringing. Davidsen here once again demonstrates her fulsome tone and emotional dexterity, infusing the voice with warmth and wistfulness where required.

Voi lo sapete from Cavalleria Rusticana pulses with a similar sense of fury and grief, but is begun very simply, almost casually, as if to suggest that the anguish with which Santuzza lives has become innate to her. This taste and intelligence is what makes Davidsen so special and one suspects that the earthiness that verismo requires will come to her in time.

Dei tuoi figli la madre from Cherubini’s Medea lacks the psychological insight she brings to those selections already mentioned, and the emotion feels studied rather than fully realised. There’s much more to love in Davidsen’s Pace, pace mio Dio! which is sung with grand sweep, throwback glamour, and an ideal sense of shape and progression. It’s what has stayed with me the most.

In Verdi’s Ave Maria, Davidsen shows off a truly beautiful control of line and length of phrase, bringing an unusual, but effective, amount of gravitas and dignity to Desdemona’s underlying terror. The tone is floated effortlessly in the aria’s final moments, and there’s a touch of the otherworldly in her affect that clearly speaks to the subject matter. The orchestra is just impeccable here, helping to create an atmosphere of subtle but profound disquiet.

Davidsen ends with Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder, one of the album’s highlights. There’s her typical vocal richness but also an amplitude and poise that puts one in mind of a great ship on open water. She’s superbly partnered by the orchestra under Elder’s unerring, poetic direction, and the emotional worlds she conjures with nobility and sophistication come close to the sublime. How lucky we are to have an artist of Davidsen’s calibre.

Listen on Apple Music.

Composer/Title: Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi
Work(s): Arias and Songs
Performer(s): Lise Davidsen, Sir Mark Elder, London Philharmonic Orchestra
Label: Decca 4851507

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