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Album: Susanna - Baudelaire & Orchestra | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Susanna - Baudelaire & Orchestra

Album: Susanna - Baudelaire & Orchestra

The Norwegian musical auteur’s intense third encounter with the French poet

Susanna Wallumrød 's 'Baudelaire & Orchestra': idiosyncratic

After his death in 1867, it didn’t take long for Charles Baudelaire’s poems to be set to music. Composer Henri Duparc did so in 1870, but Claude Debussy’s late 1880s framing of five of the Symbolist pioneer’s verses confirmed this as more than a one-off fascination for the musical world.

Subsequently, Baudelaire’s words have stimulated myriads of performers: Celtic Frost, The Cure, Serge Gainsbourg, Diamanda Galas and Tyler the Creator amongst them. In France, chanson legend Léo Férre devoted three albums to Baudelaire.

Now, with the explicitly titled Baudelaire & Orchestra, Norway’s Susanna Wallumrød reaches the same point with her third album exploring this territory. Baudelaire & Orchestra follows-up Baudelaire & Piano (2020) and Elevation (2022). From her emergence 20 years ago with Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, Wallumrød has never taken an obvious path – her 2019 album Garden of Earthly Delights (as by Susanna & The Brotherhood of Our Lady) investigated ties between the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and the present day. Wallumrød’s Baudelaire triptych is as idiosyncratic as everything preceding it.

The style of Baudelaire & Piano was as per its title. Elevation was more impressionistic, largely speech-centred rather than sung and mostly employed an electronic backdrop. The latest chapter in this on-going absorption has gripping, Arne Nordheim-esque – recalling his interpretation of The Tempest – orchestral versions of her compositional settings to 11 poems (eight of which appeared in a different form on the previous two albums). Under conductor Christian Eggen, the orchestra of Norway’s national broadcaster NRK performs arrangements by either Jan Martin Smørdal or Jarle G. Storløkken.

Of the three albums, this is the most immediate. Nonetheless, the all-in-English Baudelaire & Orchestra often overwhelms as the intensity levels are so high. Once the initial impact dissipates it becomes clear an ebb and flow alternates quiet force with an uninhibited passion, resulting in an album which is more a suite than a collection of songs. It’s also the grandest confirmation so far of Susanna Wallumrød’s fascination with Baudelaire and a magnificent, virtually ritualistic, experience.

@MrKieronTyler

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