thu 04/06/2020

Davidsen, Oslo Philharmonic online review - perfect programming, supreme musicality from all | reviews, news & interviews

Davidsen, Oslo Philharmonic online review - perfect programming, supreme musicality from all

Davidsen, Oslo Philharmonic online review - perfect programming, supreme musicality from all

The more-than-promising Norwegian soprano isn't the only star in enthralling 'interludes'

Lise Davidsen with Oslo Philharmonic cellists

Could there be more tender, tactful or soul-nourishing signs of a new musical normal than these two 45-minute gems? We're nowhere near emulating the kind of live distance concerts members of the Bergen, Oslo and Czech Philharmonics have been offering for some weeks now, but it's vital to hope that we can at some point in the not too distant future.

Could there be more tender, tactful or soul-nourishing signs of a new musical normal than these two 45-minute gems? We're nowhere near emulating the kind of live distance concerts members of the Bergen, Oslo and Czech Philharmonics have been offering for some weeks now, but it's vital to hope that we can at some point in the not too distant future.

Especially when the programming has been as thoughtfully done as it has been here, with gravely beautiful openers, the riveting presence of the most compelling of young lyric-dramatic sopranos and the assured, low-key art-concealing-art of outstanding instrumentalists. And in an overall twist, more players will appear in each live concert until it's time to welcome back the full orchestra. Which they can probably do quite soon in Norway; in the UK, well, let's try not to think of that now.

Lise Davidsen was the bait, but in the first concert to feature her the equal star was the Oslo Philharmonic's British principal cellist, Louisa Tuck (pictured below). As she told us in a pre-recorded spoken interlude – the concerts, by the way, are named after the Norwegian word for that, "Mellomspill" –  lockdown has left her with time on her hands, so she spent a great deal of it choosing repertoire to arrange for herself and eight colleagues.

Louisa TuckNot the Aria from the fifth of Brazilian composer Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras; that's tailor made for the ensemble and soprano – wordless in the outer sections, impassioned with text at the heart of the piece, which found Davidsen giving the slightly plummy delivery she can make with unfamiliar languages, though ravishing in the floated lines throughout. But Tuck honoured her native land with the tongue-in-cheek patriotism of three numbers (just enough) from Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs, indelible favourite at the Last Night of the Proms.

With the cellists sensibly spaced in an empty hall, there was none of the naff Prommers' footstamping that always tries (and fails) to keep pace with the increasing speeds of the Hornpipe, but plenty of esprit to offset the introspection in much of the programme. And the solo of "Tom Bowling" was, as Tuck must have realised in settling on the choice, a gift for a superb cellist - which she certainly is, but wonderfully collegial, all the same. The nut-brown tones were given a different companion in Svendsen's Romance; fascinating to think that this was going out live at virtually the same time as the players' colleagues at the Bergen Philharmonic were tackling the Swedish composer's Octet.

The eight were put to even more gorgeous use as a magic carpet for Davidsen in three Grieg songs. "Spring", also well known in the composer's melting arrangement for string orchestra, has to be one of the loveliest Lieder ever composed, every inch a match for the most inward inspirations of Schumann, Brahms and Mahler. And while Davidsen had not quite excelled, language and open-vowel wise, in her German selection of an otherwise treasurable Barbican recital before lockdown, here she lived every inflection and invoked the sound of Kirsten Flagstad, with whom she is already being compared (but there are vital differences, too). "A Swan" was no less bittersweet, and "By Rondane," which evokes Grieg's Scottish descent – the i and the e were reversed after his great-grandfather reached Scandinavia following the Battle of Culloden – to an uncanny extent. So three northern lands were evoked in this programme alongside the melancholy-sensual south of the magical prelude.

Watch the first 'Mellomspill' with Lise Davidsen and the Oslo Philharmonic cello ensemble

In the second programme, we got second Viennese school lite, though ravishing, in the first two items. Schoenberg's Notturno for strings and harp is another of those early works, like the string sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), which not only offer a rewarding game of "guess the composer" but also show a deep pleasure in sheer mellifluous beauty (the sextet, of course, gets very fraught, but ends in the promised shimmer of transfiguration).

Berg's Seven Early Songs seem to me to benefit best from the halfway house heard here between piano accompaniment and the full orchestral version. Chamber arrangement suits the crepuscular, half-dreamlike states of the poems perfectly and is very much in the tradition of the turn-of-the-century Vienna Society for Private Musical Performance in which Schoenberg, Webern and Erwin Stein among others offered scaled-down "special presentations" (sometimes premieres). We may be experiencing more of those in the months, if not years, to come.

This one was by the great Reinbert de Leeuw, who died last year. It's authentic to the early 20th century Viennese spirit in its use of that ubiquitous (but discreetly engaged) thickening agent the harmonium as well as piano; but the best magic came from Davidsen blending with flute and clarinet in the fifth song, very haiku. Her opulence and breath control came to the fore in subtle ripples on the shore of a moonlit beach; the last vocal sound was a sign of the swelling and receding her artistry can manage on a single note. And this time with a German text the meaning was clear, the eye contact engaging, with little glancing down at the score.

If the Berg offers a discreet and slightly troubling charm, Wagner's Siegfried Idyll in its original chamber version for 13 instruments proved tears-in-the-eyes stuff at this emotional time, but there was no milking it with leader Elise Båtnes in such perfect charge. Usually a conductor is called in, but there was no need here; the opening pace was perfect, the climax rightly broad, the dying fall just exquisite. You wouldn't hear this more tenderly played anywhere in the world. After a decent interval, I'll be keen for a change of atmosphere with the Oslo Philharmonic brass plus organ and percussion in the next concert, already available online.

Watch the second 'Mellomspill' with Davidsen singing Berg between music by Schoenberg and Wagner

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