One of Susanna's enduring strengths is bringing the work of great artists to life in new and personal ways. On 2019's Hieronymous Bosch-inspired Garden of Earthly Delights, she broke new ground, interpreting the painter's triptych with vivid songs that honor its mystery. With Baudelaire & Piano, she returns to more familiar territory, but the results are no less stunning. Susanna is no stranger to setting the words of poets and writers to music; her earliest albums featured interpretations of Dorothy Parker, and 2011's Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene was based on the work of Norwegian poet Gunvor Hofmos. However, Baudelaire holds a special place in Susanna's heart. Like Bob Dylan and Scott Walker (both of whom she's also interpreted), the French poet has been a major influence on her outlook and music; the title of her 2008 album Flower of Evil alludes to his masterwork Flowers of Evil. On this album, she sets ten poems from that volume (as translated by Anthony Mortimer) to artfully stark piano pieces. Baudelaire's reputation for debauchery could suggest intricate, overwrought instrumentation and singing. Wisely, Susanna opts to hint at the intensity and sensuality of his words rather than trying to match them. On "The Harmony of the Evening," arpeggios briefly envelop the listener like the fragrant flowers described in the poem. The economy of her playing and singing on Baudelaire & Piano echoes the one-on-one connection between writer and reader, as well as the immediacy of a live performance. The stillness that surrounds her is riveting, particularly on the album's first half, which plays like an extended meditation. Nevertheless, there are a few instant standouts within Baudelaire & Piano's spellbinding whole. Susanna embodies the hunger in "The Vampire" with striding, demanding chords, while the descending figure she plays on "The Enemy" suggests the relentless passage of time that Baudelaire loathes. "Burial" is fittingly dark and dramatic, yet there's softness in her voice when she describes the rogue's gallery that carries on above the grave. Similarly, Susanna finds an unexpected sweetness in "Obsession," where the winding piano melody sets off the sultry lows and plaintive highs of her vocals. Thoughtfully conceived and crafted, Baudelaire & Piano is another bewitching example of what a sensitive and creative interpreter Susanna is -- she lets all the nuances of the poet's words shine through while remaining true to her own muse.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares