Given her recent TV appearances and fetchingly glamorous platform presence you might be forgiven for expecting a recital by Danielle de Niese to be little more than showy trifles. Far from it: this young soprano is a musician of serious intent and means.
She is also blessed with a voice of radiant clarity and expressive warmth (a winning combination of lyric agility and mezzo richness) that she uses to remarkably expressive effect. In short, Danielle de Niese really knows how to put over a song. And with Julius Drake at the piano she had a perfect collaborator, sensitive to every nuance and brilliantly virtuosic when required – a musical partnership in every way.
Surprisingly, considering de Niese has been treading many of the world’s opera stages since her teens, we heard nothing operatic on Sunday, which made the programme even more exceptional. She offered instead Grieg, Wolf, Poulenc and Bizet, preceded by a couple of not very convincing (unusually for an experienced Baroque singer) Dowland lute songs.
De Niese’s generous employment of dynamic variety, vocal colouring and physical gestures were much better suited to the 19th romantic outpourings of Wolf’s lieder – two each from the Spanish, Italian and ‘Mörike’ collections – and Grieg’s remarkable ‘Haugtussa’ song-cycle. This latter work was totally compelling, not only for de Niese’s ability to convey the Norwegian text with such fluency that one hardly needed to consult the translation, but in her superbly judged sense of mood and emotion.
Poulenc’s ‘Fiançailles pour rire’ and four of Bizet’s ‘Vingt melodies’ may have offered more immediate delights – as did the three encores (Cole Porter’s ‘I hate men’ was a hoot) – but on this occasion it was definitely Grieg who took the honours.