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‘Davidsen’s voice has rich beauty and steely strength – in purely vocal terms, this is a stunning display of range and technical control ’

Hugo Shirley is won over by an enticing album of Grieg songs performed with unaffected beauty by fellow Norwegians Lise Davidsen and Leif Ove Andsnes

Grieg Haugtussa, Op 67. Five Songs, Op 69. Six Songs, Op 48. Six Elegiac Songs, Op 59 – No 3, To Her I; No 4, To Her II. Six Songs, Op 25 – No 2, A Swan; No 4, With a waterlily. Twelve Songs, Op 33 – No 2, Last spring; No 9, At Rondane. And I will take a sweetheart, Op 60 No 5. I love but thee, Op 5 No 3. Poesy, Op 18 No 5 Lise Davidsen sop Leif Ove Andsnes pf Decca F 485 2254 (80’ • DDD • T/t)

This album is something of an A&R executive’s dream: two Norwegian superstars – and exclusive artists for rival labels – brought together to record music by the country’s most popular composer. It’s a mouth-watering prospect on paper, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint. After two mixed albums with orchestra (6/19, 4/21), it’s a pleasure to hear Lise Davidsen in more intimate surroundings on her third album for Decca, and in repertoire that could hardly be closer to her heart. ‘“Everyone” in Norway knows this music’, she says in Andrew Mellor’s booklet note, before explaining how she and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes set out to address these wonderful songs afresh.

Indeed, freshness is one of the characteristics that shines most compellingly throughout this generous 80-minute selection. There’s the freshness of Davidsen’s voice, for starters, which has a rare rich beauty and steely strength and grandeur, but which she is also able to pare down to the most intimate pianissimo. In purely vocal terms, it’s a stunning display of range and technical control. But the soprano’s way with the texts – especially those in her own language – is also beautifully unaffected and honest.

Andsnes’s role cannot be overestimated, either. His playing is supremely refined and sensitive: each note is placed and voiced with the utmost care, all temptations to grandstand resisted. Initially I wondered whether he wasn’t just a little bit too discreet, and he certainly can sound understated compared with the impulsive and unfailingly imaginative Bengt Forsberg on Anne Sofie von Otter’s superb Gramophone Awardwinning Grieg recital – still, nearly 30 years on, a benchmark for this repertoire. But the more I listened, the more I was convinced by Davidsen and Andsnes’s approach, in which emotion often remains nascent, bursting forth all the more powerfully when the floodgates open.

A case in point is ‘Møte’ (‘Meeting’), which Mellor identifies as the turning point of Haugtussa (‘The Mountain Maid’) – and which served as the album’s working title. Here the opening phrases, presented with chaste simplicity, open up magnificently as our mysterious maid, Veslemøy, reacts to seeing the handsome youth (from 0'58"). Indeed, the performance of this enigmatic mini-cycle, where the line between narration and identification is so movingly blurred, benefits greatly from these artists’ approach. The soprano slips between Flagstad-like PHO T O G R A P H Y





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