Lise Davidsen, Christmas From Norway Review
by Constance Tucker
In traditional Christmas music in a classical setting, Lise Davidsen’s latest offering, Christmas From Norway, shows her exceptional vocal skill and artistic sensibility. Released under the Decca Music Group Ltd., this album sees the celebrated Norwegian soprano weaving a program of traditional Norwegian Christmas music and universally cherished festive classics, bridging the cultural and musical divide with a touch of Scandinavian warmth. Davidsen’s voice becomes a beacon of warmth and nostalgia in this album, masterfully reviving the spirit of traditional Christmas melodies.
Davidsen’s journey to this point is nothing short of remarkable. Crowned winner of the Operalia and the Queen Sonja competitions in 2015, she has since graced the stages of prestigious opera houses and festivals, earning accolades for her performances in roles ranging from Wagnerian heroines to Verdi’s dramatic characters. Her exclusive contract with Decca Classics, a label known for representing legendary dramatic sopranos, further cements her standing in the classical music pantheon.
Christmas From Norway is a collection of fourteen seasonal offerings; it’s an intimate insight into Davidsen’s artistic vision and deep-rooted connection to Christmas as a musical tradition. The album reflects her desire to make classical music accessible and relatable, a philosophy she embodies through her approach to this festive repertoire. Her selection of pieces for the album resonates with personal significance and a clear intent to draw listeners into the fold of classical music, regardless of their familiarity with the genre.
Davidsen’s “O Holy Night” performance with Douglas Gamley’s orchestration—originally crafted for Pavarotti—presents a sublime blend of power and finesse. The piece opens with a glorious orchestral passage, setting a majestic stage for Davidsen’s warm soprano tones. Her initial passage through the melody is marked by elegance, precision in diction, and impeccable pitch control. This introduction establishes the foundation for a journey through a spectrum of vocal emotions and techniques.
As the song progresses to the bridge, Davidsen’s ascent to her upper register showcases her vocal strength and fullness. This segment of the melody is compelling, highlighting her ability to seamlessly transition between ranges while maintaining clarity and expressiveness. The vocal climax during the first iteration of the theme is further enhanced by Davidsen’s beautifully augmented embellishments, adding a layer of sophistication and emotional depth to the piece.
In the second passage through the melody, Davidsen introduces additional vocal colors, employing turns and dynamic variations that enrich the listening experience. Her skillful modulation and control become even more evident as the melody reaches the higher notes. The power of her voice in these segments is nothing short of impressive, demonstrating not only her technical prowess but also her deep understanding of the emotional landscape of the song.
The arrangement culminates in Davidsen sustaining a climactic high Bb, a moment where her talent shines brightest. She sustains this note with remarkable grace, controlled pitch, and the perfect amount of vibrato, creating a moment of awe-inspiring beauty and resonance. This high point in the performance encapsulates the essence of Davidsen’s artistry: a rare combination of power, control, and emotional depth.
Her interpretation of “Ave Maria,” reminiscent of Leontyne Price’s iconic version, further showcases Davidsen’s remarkable vocal capabilities. The orchestra’s pastel colors provide a subtle yet supportive backdrop to her angelic upper register. The gentle tempo accentuates her robust and sustained notes as she passionately unfurls the melody, highlighting her extraordinary breath control. The most captivating moments are found in her legato interval jumps, where her tone, power, and expressiveness genuinely shine. These aspects of her singing pay homage to the greats and assert her unique interpretive signature, a blend of reverence for tradition and personal artistic expression.
Accompanied by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and conducted by Christian Eggen, Davidsen’s voice soars, imbued with a range of emotive colors—akin to the midnight ink, honeyed gold, and burnished burgundy noted by critics. Her vocal control and expressive delivery transform each piece into a narrative, inviting listeners into the heart of Scandinavian Christmas traditions.
Filled with the energy of the holiday season, Christmas From Norway resonates with a profound sense of warmth and reverence. In this collection, Lise Davidsen’s singing transports us into a world where every note is infused with the spirit of Christmas and the rich hues of Scandinavian culture. This reflects her vocal excellence and ability to bridge traditions, bringing the listener closer to the heart of Norway’s festive legacy. Davidsen’s artistry, rooted in her operatic technique and honed through a deep understanding of classical nuances, makes this album a unique and timeless addition to the world of classical Christmas music. It is a reminder of the power of music to evoke deep emotions, bridge cultural divides, and celebrate the universal beauty and grace of the holiday season.