Old College Quad
No matter what the Norwegian Consulate contributed in support of soprano Mari Eriksmoen’s debut appearance at the Edinburgh Festival, it probably wasn’t enough. In her enthusiasm for the music and landscape of her homeland, she is an enviably eloquent ambassador, and her distinctly Scandinavian physical charisma is self-evident.
More to the point, though, she has an extraordinary instrument in a voice that not only soars to the heights of the soprano range with a beautifully rounded tone but is strong, rich and secure at the bottom as well. Yes, there is a purity to her voice, but also just a touch of vibrato and an effortlessness that would surely embrace Broadway as readily as art song.
She began, of course, with Edvard Grieg, and the eight songs of his Haugtussa, Opus 67, setting Arne Garborg’s verse of a maiden in love, and of nature. The singer and her German accompanist Daniel Heide have this cycle honed to perfection: her poise comes with a theatrical enthusiasm for story-telling and it is matched by his bluesy pianism on the second song and then traditional ballad approach to the third. Her communication of the emotion in the lyrics defied any language barrier, with the sixth, Killingsdans, a demonstration of that vocal range.
Grieg’s exact contemporary, and friend, Agathe Backer Grondahl, may be much less well known outside Norway, but the five children’s songs from her Barnets Vaardag were no less of a delight, more picturesque and less of-the-mind, and rounding off here with a beautiful lullaby.
From that point on, Eriksmoen proved herself just as comfortable in the mainstream repertoire with leider by Schumann and Wolf. This may be a recognisably different musical world, but the soprano brought real emotional heft to the Schumann, and wit to the Wolf, which returned us to the same era, her German diction clear and precise.
Performers at this venue have to contend with, or rather simply ignore, extraneous sirens and seagulls. It was of a piece with this whole recital that an avian contributor at the end of her encore was both in time, and in pitch.