Susanna: Baudelaire & Piano review – French poet’s essence crystallised in song

Norwegian vocalist’s stark arrangements are leavened by flashes of Joni Mitchell feeling

Baudelaire & Piano
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Artist: Susanna
Genre: Singer / Songwriter
Label: Susannasonata

French poet Charles Baudelaire has influenced many artists over the years, from Debussy to The Doors to Scott Walker and now Susanna, who has form folding in iconoclasts, with 2019’s Garden of Earthly Delights a musical response to Hieronymus Bosch’s proto-surrealist paintings.

The symbiosis of her crystalline vocals with skeletal piano works brilliantly with Baudelaire’s explorations about abjection, rejection and desperation. Excerpted from his masterpiece The Flowers of Evil, the stark nature of the arrangements marry with the stark nature of the words, but there is a leavening. The production on The Enemy, The Ghost, and Burial conjures up both 19th-century Paris and 1970s Laurel Canyon Joni Mitchell, with Susanna channelling that rigour, control and true feeling that Mitchell is so synonymous with.

Throughout the record, Susanna enters into a discourse between centuries, ideas and souls about the very fabric of what we learn through existence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same preoccupations that haunted Baudelaire haunt us now: the search for repose as explored on the elegant Meditation; overwhelming beauty on the warmly discordant Obsession; complicated relationships on The Vampire; and the “holy pleasure” to be found in another on A Pagan’s Prayer. It’s all there, amplified brilliantly by each singular piano composition.

On The Harmony of Evening, Susanna sings:“Your memory glitters in me like a monstrance.” Baudelaire’s memory, and monstrance, have not only been well served, but well honoured by Susanna’s alchemical approach.


Siobhán Kane

Siobhán Kane is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture