Lisa Larsson has lately become a fan of the music of Mahler and Berg, both of whom feature in tomorrow’s Auckland concert.

Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson set off to be a flautist but when she makes her New Zealand debut tomorrow, she will be singing Berg and Mahler with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

"I slipped into singing on a banana peel," says Larsson, explaining her vocal talents were noticed during postgraduate flute studies in Switzerland.

All the performance students had to sing to help the string players to learn how to breathe with the music. Larsson's teacher told her that I should become a singer and, when she changed courses, she soon realised just how happy it made her.

"With singing you have two channels to touch somebody's soul - the music and the poetry of the words. I enjoy that very much."


As a professional singer, she first specialised in the music of Bach and Mozart, appearing on many CDs of Bach cantatas under both Ton Koopman and John Eliot Gardiner. She remembers the excitement of Koopman asking her to join him in the first recording of a newly discovered Bach manuscript.

"It was just like a James Bond movie," she says. "There was a real sense of competition as to who would make this first recording. The score was couriered rather than e-mailed and we had to sign contracts that we wouldn't reveal the secrets of our ornamentation to anyone."

More recently, Larsson has enjoyed singing the music of Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg and looks forward to Berg's Seven Early Songs this week. Berg had yet to use Schoenberg's twelve-note system of composition when he wrote these settings in 1908 and they are glorious specimens of the heady, saturated palette of late romanticism.

"I simply love them," Larsson says. "You could compare them to Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs, both in mood and for the fact that they use orchestra. But Berg projects this marvelous intimacy, rarely calling for more than pianissimo and piano from the players."

She'll close tomorrow's concert singing the final movement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony. It's a piece that comes up regularly on her concert schedule; she's sung it with many orchestras and conductors, in venues from Vienna's Musikverein to the Lucerne Festival.

She's curious as to whether APO music director Giordano Bellincampi, who conducts Thursday's concert, will have her on stage for the entire work or let her come in just for the last movement. She's done both over the years and, once, her performance was interrupted by the blare of a fire alarm.

"I was singing with the Royal Liverpool Symphony Orchestra and, just as Mahler's long bass note was fading into infinity, there was this awful noise and we were asked to vacate the building."

The poem she will sing in the Mahler finale portrays a child's view of Heaven and is one of the challenges of the soprano repertoire.

"My personal opinion is that Mahler didn't want the singer to sound operatic or too mature; he simply wanted a lighter voice," she says.

What: Heaven and Earth, APO with Lisa Larsson
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday