Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Discovering new territories - Carolyn Sampson's Fleurs

Fleurs - Carolyn Sampson - BIS
Purcell, Schumann, Quilter, Britten, Gounod, Strauss, Schubert, Poulenc, Hahn, Debussy, Boulanger, Chabrier; Carolyn Sampson, Joseph Middleton; BIS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 30 2015
Star rating: 4.5

Imaginative programming in Carolyn Sampson's first song recital disc

Rather remarkably, despite a career of some 20 years and with around 50 discs to her name, this new disc from BIS is Carolyn Sampson's first song recital disc. Entitled Fleurs, Carolyn Sampson and pianist Joseph Middleton have assembled a lovely programme of songs with a flower theme. We start with roses, with songs by Purcell, Schumann, Quilter, Britten, Gounod and Faure, then a bouquet of Richard Strauss's flower-maidens with Das Rosenband and Mädchenblumen, next 'When blooms speak' with songs by Schubert and Schumann, and finally 'Un bouquet Francais' made up of songs by Poulenc, Faure, Hahn, Debussy, Lili Boulanger and Chabrier.

Carolyn Sampson is best known for her performances of baroque music but she has something of a wider repertoire as she demonstrated in her recent performance of Britten's Les Illuminations at the Wigmore Hall (see my review) last year and we look forward to her concert there in July 2015 with the Heath Quartet performing Schoenberg's String quartet No. 2 and a new work by John Musto.

On this disc Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton are firmly in classic song recital repertoire. They open with Benjamin Britten's realisation of Henry Purcell's Sweeter than Roses. is opens with the voice almost unaccompanied and as the piano accompaniment develops it is intriguing to hear Britten's distinctive tang in the harmony, with Carolyn Sampson providing a beautifully ornamented vocal line.

A pair of Schumann songs come next, with Meine Rose and Röselein, Röselein. Both have beautiful attention to word and phrase with Meine Rose having a sense of deep interior thought. Roger Quilter's Damask Roses comes from his Seven Elizabethan Lyrics and sets an anonymous 16th century lyric. It is lyrically passionate and almost rhapsodic at times. Benjamin Britten's The Nightingale and the Rose comes from The Poet's Echo (1965). The song sets Pushkin, in Russian, in a cycle written for Galina Vishnevskaya. It is a dark edgy piece (far less exotic than the Rimsky-Korsakov setting of the poem) and though Carolyn Sampson's voice is very different to that of Galina Vishnevskaya, she brings a lovely clean edge to the rather unnerving music. We are in more salon-ish territory with Gounod's Le temps des roses, written late in his life. Carolyn Sampson combines an ardent line with some lovely ornament in the vocal line. Faure's Les roses d'Ispahan is all seductive exoticism with a French perfume.

Richard Strauss's Das Rosenband was written in 1897 and is a rare example of Strauss setting a text used by his great predecessors. Carolyn Sampson sings with a fine, slimline tone and a shapely sense of line. Perhaps not a typical Strauss voice, but one which blossoms as Strauss expands the melody. Strauss's Mädchenblumen is group of four songs setting remarkably wordy texts by Felix Dahn, written in 1889. Dahn's words are perhaps best left unread, being horribly sweet and arch in their sentiment, comparing girls to different flowers. The cornflower is sung with a nice purity, the poppy has a lovely twinkly piano and sly charm from Carolyn Sampson. Ivy is slow, considered and intense, and water-lily starts from a thread to reveal a rather expressionist melody. Here we get some lovely silvery tone from Carolyn Sampson and magical textures.

When blooms speak starts with a pair of Schubert songs. Die Blumensprache is delightfully impulsive with a great sense Carolyn Sampson of colouring the words. whilst Im Haine is an ardent waltz. Schumann's three songs all set poems by Friedrich Rückert. Jasminenstrauch is short and delightful, whist Die Blume der Ergebung and Schneeglöckchen both combine nicely considered phasing with a lovely intimate tone.

The final group, Un bouquet Francais, is naturally all French. Poulenc's Fleurs (from his Louise de Vilmorin settings Fiancailles pour rire) is notable for the long, thoughtful line. Two songs by Faure follow. Le papillon et la fleur, setting Victor Hugo, is a delightful combination of fluttering piano and charming waltz, whilst Fleur jetee (setting Armand Silvestre) is vibrantly dramatic with a busy piano complementing Carolyn Sampson's impulsive vocals. Reynaldo Hahn's Offrande sets the same Verlaine poem as Faure and Debussy's Green but here Hahn is all slow beauty with Carolyn Sampson bringing a sensitivity to words and sense of line, but with a hint of exotic perfume. Debussy's De fleurs, setting his own text from 1892-93, is also slow but far more intense and complex than the Reynaldo Hahn. Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton make it powerful stuff indeed.

Lili Boulanger's Les lilas qui avaient fleuri of 1914 from her cycle of Francis Jammes settings, Clairieres dans le ciel. It is very much in the lineage of Debussy and Faure, but more complex and with some lovely textures. Carolyn Sampson gives us a lovely high floated conclusion too. The final song is Chabrier's setting of Edmond Rostand's Toutes les fleur brings the disc to a richly vibrant conclusion.

Caroyn Sampson brings her customary intelligence to bear on all the songs, attentive to the words whilst preserving a fine sense of line. The recital also has the sense of an artist discovering new pastures, as she shows a new warmth and sense of colour in her voice. She is not a refulgent Strauss soprano, but her voice certainly opens out in the climaxes. But it was in the French song that I though there seemed to be most sympathy between singing, voice and song and it is heartening to learn that another disc, of French song, is being planned.

Joseph Middleton is far more than an accompanist on this disc, having originated the thematic idea for the recital and helping choose the songs. For him, it is very much a text based selection and he sees subtle links between the texts of different songs throughout the whole recital.

This disc is very much a beginning, rather than an end, but it is a finely wrought and rather satisfying end in its own right.

What's in a name? that which we call a rose 
By any other name would smell as sweet
Henry Purcell (1659-1695), realised by Benjamin Britten - Sweeter than Roses [3.40]
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Meine Rose [3.26]
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Röselein, Röselein [2.22]
Roger Quilter (1877-1953) - Damask Rose [1.22]
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) - The Nightingale and the Rose (1965) [4.05]
Charles Gounod (1818-1893) - Le temps des roses [2.23]
Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) - Les roses d'Ispahan [3.01]

Strauss's Flowermaidens
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) - Das Rosenband [3.25]
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) - Mädchenblumen [10.46]

When blooms speak
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Die Blumensprache [2.15]
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Im Haine [2.28]
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Jasminenstrauch [0.47]
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Die Blume der Ergebung [3.06]
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - sschneeglockschen [1.36]

Un bouquet francais 
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) - Fleurs [2.51]
Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) - Le papillon et la fleur [2.01]
Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) - Leur jetee [1.17]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) - Offrande [3.20]
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) - De fleurs (1892-93) [5.42]
Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) - Les lilas qui avaient fleuri (1914) [2.39]
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) - Toutes les fleur [4.68]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Joseph Middleton (piano)
Record at Potton Hall, Suffolk, February 2014
BIS BIS-2102 1 CD [68.50]
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