Three years or so ago, I made a prediction for the 2020s that Lise Davidsen would become of the major names of the great opera houses. That comment was made on the back of a splendid recital by Davidsen at Wigmore Hall in the much missed Rosenblatt series. Fast-forward to 2020 and Davidsen is now giving recitals in the larger, but still comfortably-filled Barbican Hall on the back of an acclaimed debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and with engagements at Covent Garden and Bayreuth planned later in the year.

Lise Davidsen © Ray Burmiston
Lise Davidsen
© Ray Burmiston

It was a rewarding programme, presented by Davidsen in an elegantly simple and unscripted manner, only slightly hindered by rather gimmicky projections on her dress during Sibelius’ Luonnotar. Richard Strauss is a key figure in any soprano’s recital repertoire, but it was a pleasure to hear these performed alongside songs by Sibelius, Grieg, Schumann and Brahms. The selection offered Davidsen opportunities to display an instrument that really is quite magnificent in size, but also her ability to colour the voice with a deep emotion that emerges directly from the text.

Davidsen started with Lieder by Brahms, of which Da unten im Tale stood out for the manner in which Davidsen reined her voice back, layering her singing with warm gentleness that seemed at times to caress the words. Liebestreu was also a highlight from the Brahms where the song is in two voices: that of a mother and her daughter. Davidsen brought both personae to life, a more guttural, gravelly tone for the mother and a purer lighter tone to the child. Davidsen’s palette was further emphasised in Schumann’s Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart; the Abschied von Frankreich was a heartfelt parting from her country where Davidsen lingered longingly over the text, savouring the syllables as Maria might have savoured memories of her childhood home, while the Gebet was rich with devotion, fear and desperation.

Luonnotar is a vehicle for the premium soprano, requiring a finely tuned higher register, vocal flair and keen phrasing. Davidsen’s top notes were spot on, but most impressive was her keening cry as she sang the eponymous spirit’s one section of dialogue, a howl almost animalistic and saturated with misery. Davidsen has a gift for bringing narrative to life and singing the concert without a score facilitated a palpable connection with the audience. Perhaps the one complaint that could be made is that Davidsen let the voice loose a little too freely here; more suited to a substantial opera house, it felt almost too substantial for comfortable listening.

The highlight of the concert was the selection of Sibelius where Davidsen’s flair for narrative and rich shading of text stood out, particularly in Var det en dröm? which gleamed with an ardent nostalgia. The Strauss songs was sung with technical brilliance, but until she came to Cäcilie , did not seem to have that white hot emotion that the earlier pieces had.

James Baillieu is a regular accompanist of Davidsen’s and displayed his usual sensitivity, with some delightful playing in the Sibelius songs and Luonnotar in particular. This concert solidified Davidsen’s status as a major talent and the rapt attention (a level of silence most unusual in concerts today) from the audience indicates that her appearances in London will continue to be warmly received.

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