This lovely concert marked the start of Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen’s Artist Spotlight series at the Barbican, which runs until the end of the season. Guildhall masterclasses, a programme of arias and duets with tenor Freddie de Tommaso (they share the same record label), and a concert with the Oslo Philharmonic can be heard in the spring. First, however, came this recital of songs by Grieg, Strauss and Wagner with her compatriot Leif Ove Andsnes, a starry pairing, and a really effective one on this showing.
Davidsen’s voice is notable for its amplitude, power and fullness of tone, remarkable for a singer still only in her early 30s, and already defining her as a major Wagnerian. What immediately impressed in this instance, however, was her wide dynamic range, subtly deployed and often beautifully controlled. When unleashed, as at the climax of Strauss’s Befreit, the sound is oceanic and thrilling. Most striking here, though, was the comparative restraint of much of her singing, and the intimate sense of light and shade that came with it.
Her performance of Grieg’s song cycle Haugtussa (The Mountain Maid), with its sad, sweet evocation of love and heartbreak, was remarkable for its delicacy: the flash of silver in Davidsen’s upper registers when the voice is not under pressure was particularly beguiling here. The brooding introspection of Strauss’s Ruhe, Meine Seele and rapt contentment of Morgen were beautifully captured, while Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder were for the most part about refined depths of passion rather than self-consciously lofty declarations of feeling, though a telling surge of emotion at the climax of Schmerzen spoke volumes about the music’s underlying intensity.
On occasion, Davdisen’s consonants slipped a little, and one wanted more of the words, but much of this was magnificent nevertheless. Andsnes’s playing, meanwhile, was exquisite throughout – wonderfully intelligent and considered, the meaning of every phrase and figuration carefully probed and exposed.