wed 19/01/2022

Lise Davidsen, Leif Ove Andsnes, Barbican review - perfect Grieg, impressive Strauss and Wagner | reviews, news & interviews

Lise Davidsen, Leif Ove Andsnes, Barbican review - perfect Grieg, impressive Strauss and Wagner

Lise Davidsen, Leif Ove Andsnes, Barbican review - perfect Grieg, impressive Strauss and Wagner

Norwegian soprano and pianist do their greatest compatriot proud in a superb song-cycle

Leif Ove Andsnes and Lise Davidsen salute each other's artistry at the end of a generous recitalBoth images Mark Allan/Barbican

After a too-much-too-soon debut disc, Lisa Davidsen has just rolled out the gold on CD with her great fellow Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes in songs by their compatriot Grieg.

The visuals last night, in the first concert of a Barbican mini-residency, made the Grieg first half better still: Davidsen lives each world, communicates so well with her audience – as she moves so beautifully on and off stage, too, she looks around as if to engage – and has the benefit of a well-lit stage, the auditorium duly darkened, with translations projected on a screen above (why doesn’t the Wigmore do that?) Andsnes’ perfect placing of every final chord or phrase registered in a silence that was alive with intensity.

Strauss and Wagner gave more opportunity for the lyric-dramatic voice to shine out. Davidsen chose big, intense Lieder, “Ruhe, meine Seele” ("Rest, my soul") and “Befreit” ("Released"), to bookend the Strauss quartet, a more heroic stance apparent from the start. The sound at full pelt isn’t luminous-beautiful, but always impressive, and the slightly lower compass of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder suits it better. Davidsen and Andsnes have a hypnotic way of drawing you in to the most introspective settings, which is why “Im Treibhaus” (“In the Hothouse”), along with Strauss’s “Morgen!” ("Tomorrow!")– has the dominant piano rapture even been more movingly done? – was the true highlight of the second half. Leif Ove Andsnes and Lise Davidsen at the BarbicanWith the Grieg, though, the treasures were infinite, the work of a true Lieder-singer absolutely at one with the subtlest of pianists. There’s more honesty in the composer’s chosen texts, too. Grieg is the equal of the German masters in his Heine and Goethe settings, and his choice of the medieval master Walter von der Vogelweide for a love-song with nightingale brought ever more refined refrains both from singer and piano.

The highest value of this recital, though, was to confirm Haugtussa (The Mountain Maid) as one of the great song-cycles. Davidsen and Andsnes officially own it now. What wealth of tone-colour here, from the dark, almost oracular opening summons through the secret rapture of “Møte” (“Meeting”), offering the purest refined magic of the evening to the sadness-in-nature of the deserted girl by a mountain brook, where Andsnes’ pure-source approach once more shone in the spotlight.

Davidsen’s generous humour came to the fore again, after a very mobile "Lauf der Welt" ("Way of the World") in the first sequence, as the child of nature proves forceful against all natural comers – the fox, the wolf – but not the young man who’ll steal her heart. Grieg’s directness is what will remain from this often remarkable evening, and it seemed apt that after the effulgence of the first encore, Strauss’s "Zueignung" ("Dedication"). Davidsen and Andsnes ended with it in the simple single verse of “Jeg elsker deg” "(I love you"). To judge from the warmest of responses, that love is well reciprocated by a growing fandom in the most attentive of audiences.

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