The Emotion of the Day: Four Last Songs for a Forgotten World

one Thursday, 23rd April 2015, at the Romanian Athaeneum
Richard Strauss:
Tone poem Don Juan
The Last Four Songs
Symphonic fantasy The Woman without a Shadow
The Dance of the seven veils from Salome
Lise Davidsen, soprano
Conductor: Christian Badea
„George Enescu” Philharmonic Orchestra

Lise Davidsen, Christian Badea, la Ateneul Român (Foto: Romeo Zaharia)
Lise Davidsen, Christian Badea – (c) Romeo Zaharia)

In Romania, we always celebrate Hariclea Darclée and it is very good that we measure our musical tradition taking into account this important soprano, who created the roles of Tosca, La Wally and Iris (an opera composed by Mascagni and almost forgotten today). But, at the same time, we too easily forget Viorica Ursuleac and Maria Cebotari, who created Arabella and Aminta (from The Silent Woman). Romanians have a preference for Puccini, to the prejudice of Richard Strauss, who was as important and as contemporary, and even a physical and musical survivor of the Italian verismo approach.

Richard Strauss’ last four songs are not mainly a musical will, like Mozart’s Requiem, but a farewell message sent to the world by a composer who was 84 years old and felt his end was near. And Strauss accepted this end with serenity, which makes it even more touching. A whole world was disappearing with his end, the world we call “interwar” and we idealise full of nostalgies, even if we did not live it. These songs are a contemplation of the end of that world and of its culture.

The four songs were composed with lyrics by Hermann Hesse, and Joseph von Eichendorff (Im Anbendrot), and the music lays over the poets’ words an extremely delicate twilight shadow.

Taking all this into account, the orchestral jewels of Don Juan or Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils had difficulties in finding their way to shine last night at the Athaeneum. Moreover, there was also this curiosity of the melomaniacs about Lise Davidsen, the young Danish soprano: who was she? what kind of voice did she have?

The suspense was maintained by an excellent Don Juan, where Christian Badea showed his usual self-confidence, in front of an orchestra that listened  to his commands without a single mistake.

Christian Badea
Christian Badea

It is difficult to describe what followed Lisa Davidsen’s appearing on stage: a very tall soprano, of a Nordic beauty, with a rather shy air and waiting for the end of the quick lines that start the first song. I have no idea about how Birgit Nilsson sang these songs in her youth (if she sang them). I listened only to a late recording, from 1970. Well, Lise Davidsen was the image of a Birgit Nilsson at the ideal age for singing these last sparkles of the old composer. A big, full voice, but at the same time lyrical and vaguely dark, ideal. If Frühling amazed us with this voice, as many people were just gaping, the emotions followed, in waves, in the next songs.

Of course, in our country these lieds have always been sung by lyrical sopranos, used to the Italian fach, which adds warmth to the voice, and, sometimes, a certain innocent nostalgia, like that of a young woman remembering her grandparents. But Lise Davidsen showed they can be sung completely differently: like a young Walkiria telling about the Twilight of the Gods. And the entire cycle of the lieds got another dimension, where the sound amplitude was at the same time modulated in a phrasing that did not lack warmth, or the piano nuances, doubled by a very good diction.

And, after the initial amazement, came the undissimulated pleasure of tasting this vocal beauty, in September. Afterwards, as Strauss’ lieds got deeper and deeper in that final light that disappears in a silence without sighs and sentimentalism, when the violin solo of Florin Paul, the concertmaster, was followed by the soprano in a respectful attitude, that strong emotion appeared, the emotion that one can hardly master, that makes you be ashamed not of the people around you, but of the decency of Strauss’ poetry…

Lise Davidsen
Lise Davidsen

I have tried up to now to avoid a comparison that the conductor Christian Badea made after the rehearsals, but I could not find a better equivalent for the majestic style in which the human voice and the orchestra were complementing each other in Im Abendrot: as the soprano was getting to the highest notes, as the orchestra was accompanying her in a complete formula, Lise Davidsen seemed the image of a ship royally floating over the waves of the sea…

The second part of the concert included the Symphonic fantasy The Woman without a Shadow and The Dance of the seven veils from Salome, trying to decant the impressions after an experience that was so close to transcendency.

Come to see her on Friday too, she is so young that she still has not flown towards those opera theatres that will not allow her to look back. It is a rare occasion, and because it is rare, it is also a very happy one.

Photos – (c) Romeo Zaharia

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