Barbican Hall: Lise Davidsen & Freddie De Tommaso with James Baillieu

Lise Davidsen (soprano) & Freddie De Tommaso (tenor) with James Baillieu (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 30 May, 2022
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

As Lise Davidsen well knows, Wagner’s ‘Dich teure Halle’ is as great a helpful kick-start to a career as it is to a recital, while incidentally paying a nice compliment to the Barbican Hall’s concrete interior and to her hosts for placing the Norwegian singer in its Artist Spotlight series. And, of course, Elisabeth’s aria from Tannhäuser is ideal for showing off Davidsen’s magnificent soprano – its size, opulence, emotional intelligence, fabulous line and effortless breath control. As the opening gambit of the recital she was sharing with Freddie De Tommaso, the trumpet-like aria took no prisoners. That came as no surprise, but her imposing, slightly reserved stage presence, which could have buckled under the white-hot expectations suddenly heaped upon her, has relaxed. She compered her part of this recital with self-effacing charm, she wore her two gowns with irresistible flair, and both she and De Tommaso showed off that uncanny knack of seeming to sing just to you.

Both singers knocked sparks of each other in a scorching account of Riccardo and Amelia’s love duet from Un Ballo in Maschera, but Desdemona’s Ave Maria from Otello gave more of an idea of the vocal and psychological darkness of Davidsen’s lower voice. Her pianissimo ascent to the climactic, even softer top note was heavenly. But it was De Tommaso, in full-on Italian style, who had the last word in the programme’s first half devoted to opera with a passionate, immaculately shaped account of Count Ipanov’s Amor ti vieta from Giordano’s Fedoro.

Davidsen had another trick up her sleeve for the start of Part Two, in which her sublimely inward performance of Tosca’s Vissi d’arte made as deep an impact with its quiet glow as the Wagner had with all its brilliance, the spell continued by De Tommaso’s impassioned suspension of time in Federico’s Lament from Cilea’s L’arlesiana. 

After Davidsen had made misery more explicit in Lisa’s I am worn out by grief from Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, the programme changed course to songs, operetta and show music. De Tommaso let rip with the sobbing sentimentality and high-wire vocal demands of Paolo Tosti’s Non t’amo piu, Davidsen’s easily convinced us that she could have danced all night, with high notes to spare, and then both waltzed into the night with a seductive Lips are silent from Lehár’s The Merry Widow.

Davidsen and De Tommaso had flattered each other’s vocal and artistic personalities with seemingly artless ease, while James Baillieu was heroically in charge of the considerable challenges of piano reductions of orchestral scores, and absolutely at-one with a flood of vocal nuance.

There were two encores, De Tommaso in sonorous voice for Sullivan’s The Lost Chord; Davidsen quieter and ambiguous in Grieg’s lovely Varen.

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