My main reason for getting my hands on a new CD of mainly orchestral music by Sibelius featuring the Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner was to listen to the couple of tracks that feature soprano Lise Davidsen. I first saw her with the TSO in 2019 and I thought she was great.
The most substantial piece is Luonnotar which is drawn from the Kalevala and tells the often told story of the universe being created from an egg. This is big orchestra Sibelius ad Gardner is not afraid to go to the extremes in the contrasts of dark and light and, of curse, volume. Davidsen sings with great beauty and no sign at all of stress all through her range, even over a sometimes very loud orchestra. It’s all super smooth and really impressive.
This new recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes was recorded from semi-staged performances in the Grieghallen in Bergen in November last year. It’s very good indeed. Of course, there are many good audio and video recordings of this piece going back to the composer’s own version with Peter Pears in the title role; recorded in 1959 and many fine singers have recorded the title role. To stand out from the field, a new recording needs an outstanding Grimes and in Stuart Skelton this version has one. He manages to encompass both the brutal, gritty side of Grimes as well as the more ethereal side. Pears did the latter brilliantly but could never quite manage the grit. Vickers, who practically owned the role in the 1970s, was brutal but didn’t have the voice or the stage skills to bring out the gentler side. Perhaps the first person to really portray the full complexity of the character was the late Philip Langridge and there’s much about Skelton’s portrayal that reminds one of him. It shades toward the delicate most of the time with some lovely singing in “Now the Great Bear” and in the mad scene. But when Skelton needs to be brutal he’s downright scary.