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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser: Dich, teure Halle [3:41]; Allmächt’ge Jungfrau! [7:33]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos: Es gibt ein Reich [6:36)
Vier Lieder, Op 27: Ruhe, meine Seele! [4:36]; Cäcilie [2:20]; Heimliche Aufforderung (orch. Robert Heger) [3:29]; Morgen! [4:34]
Wiegenlied, Op 41/1 [4:12]
Malven, TrV 287 (orch. Rihm) [3:02]
Vier letzte Lieder [23:01]
Lise Davidsen (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
rec. 2018, Henry Wood Hall, London
German texts, English & French translations included
DECCA 483 4883 [63:57]

The launch of this disc in central London recently enabled a first-hand experience of just how powerful Lise Davidsen’s voice really is. Her voice is radiant, strong, and (unless you’re sitting basically right next to her, as I was) not overbearing. There’s an edge, but it is that of sunlight on steel, and, reined in, there is the capacity for the utmost beauty. We hear both aspects of Davidsen in the Tannhäuser excerpts. In ‘Dich, teure Halle’ there is a glorious dignity that puts one in mind of Jessye Norman in her heyday (think that phenomenal Wagner disc with Tennstedt), while in ‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau!’ we enter a space of the utmost concentration. A true, prayer, in fact.

It is in the twin pillars of Wagner and Strauss that Davidsen excels. When we move to Richard Strauss, and his (in)famous ‘Es gibt ein Reich’ from Ariadne auf Naxos, we encounter a superb assumption of the role. While the Wagner excerpts find the Philharmonia in imperious form under Salonen, this first Strauss excerpt reveals the orchestra to be just a touch careful and earthbound. We hear magic from both parties in ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’, though, and here the drama comes from both singer and orchestra. It certainly comes from the orchestra at the outburst that is the opening of ‘Cäcilie’.

A superb ‘Morgen!’ leads to a transfixing ‘Wiegenlied’ where Davidsen’s purity of line is remarkable – as is her low register, which as a mezzoish firmness to it. The combination of Davidsen and Salonen here is magical, while the orchestral opening of ‘Malvern’, Strauss’ final, final song (as opposed to the ‘Four Last Songs’!), has a positively refreshing quality. This is heard in an arrangement by Rihm which retains the glory of Strauss’ writing. This is a 2013 orchestration. It immediately precedes the actual Vier letzte Lieder, implicitly perhaps creating a new set of five but leaving us to enjoy the ‘famous four’ as a set.

If Jessye Norman and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf hover over some of the earlier songs, the competition opens out exponentially for the Vier letzte Lieder including both of those ladies (collectors will know Schwarzkopf in readings conducted by Szell and Ackermann, no doubt, the latter also with the Philharmonia). We hear Salonen’s characteristic attention to detail and his fresh approach (no dawdling) in ‘September,’ where the Philharmonia winds are on top form.  Clarity of line from the orchestra is again paramount in ‘Beim Schlafengehen,’ but it is important to realise that this comes in tandem with the warmth of late Strauss. Finally, comes ‘Im Abendrot,’ the Philharmonia setting the scene perfectly, managing the harmonic darkening at the voice’s entrance like nowhere else and giving the sense of a prolongation of a sunset’s glow.

This is a phenomenal disc, stunningly recorded, with orchestral playing of the greatest finesse and delivering a huge talent to us in the shape of Lise Davidsen.

Colin Clarke

Previous review: John Quinn

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