Wednesday 8 March 2017

Lunch with Dowland, Britten, Purcell and Stephen Goss

Illustration of Robin the Miller, from The Miller's Tale
Illustration of Robin the Miller, from The Miller's Tale
Dowland, Britten, Stephen Goss, Purcell; Carolyn Sampson, Matthew Wadsworth; BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 07 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Music ancient and modern for voice, lute and theorbo, including the premiere of Stephen Goss's new theorbo solo.

Monday's BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at the Wigmore Hall on 6 March 2017 was a recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and lutenist Matthew Wadsworth. Their programme include lute songs and lute music by John Dowland, songs by Henry Purcell (with theorbo accompaniment), three of Britten's folk-song arrangements for voice and guitar (in Matthew Wadsworth's arrangement for theorbo), and the premiere of a new work for solo theorbo, The Miller's Tale by Stephen Goss.

Carolyn Sampson and Matthew Wadsworth started with a group of John Dowland's lute songs. Shall I strive with words to move was full of elegant melancholy, with Sampson using a beautifully modulated middle register, and giving a strong sense of the words. In Now, O now I needs must part there was a fine sense of Sampson and Wadsworth as a duo with her lyric voice supported by the crisp rhythms of Wadsworth's playing. Samson sang Come again, sweet love doth now invite with great charm, both she and Wadsworth giving us a strong sense of engagement, and lively story telling.

Matthew Wadsworth then played a pair of lute solos. Dowland's A dream was a slow pavan, the melody enlivened with lots of deft fingerwork, and this was followed by an anonymous Galliarda, a lively piece which went with a swing.

Britten's folk song settings for voice and guitar were published in 1961 and were written for Peter Pears and Julian Bream, Master Kilby was a delightful triple time piece with discreet accompaniment. I will give my love an apple had an accompaniment which brought out the elegiac tone of the work, whilst The Soldier and the Sailor went with a great swagger. Matthew Wadsworth's theorbo accompaniment brought a nice tang to the pieces.

Some years ago Matthew Wadsworth played in a programme with John Williams at the Globe. This included a piece for two guitars by Stephen Goss, and John Williams asked Goss to add a theorbo part to the piece. After the concert this gave rise to the idea of a Goss writing a piece for Matthew Wadsworth. The theorbo is not tuned like a guitar, so at Matthew Wadsworth's suggestion Goss experimented with a guitar tuned like the top six strings of a theorbo; the lower sympathetic strings on the instrument required some experimentation between Goss and Wadsworth.

The result is The Miller's Tale,  based on Chaucer, in six movements. Each of the characters gets a movement, Estampie for John, Chanson for Alisoun, Toccata for Nicholas, and Serenade for Absolon, rounded off with a prelude and an epilogue. The prelude was nicely ethereal with the cross-string work giving a rather Spanish air to it. John's Estampie was lively and rather folk-like, but with darker textures, whilst Alisoun's Chanson was quite free with some interesting textures. It was intriguing to hear a contemporary composer exploring an old instrument. Nicholas's Toccata was fast flowing with some spectacular fingerwork, and passages high up on the fingerboard. The Serenade was also quite free with some delicate textures making it rather haunting. The Epilogue was all dazzling string crossing and a striking use of the low open strings. It was fascinating to find a new piece which work so strikingly and effectively for the theorbo, and I hope we hear it again soon.

For the final group we went back in time to Purcell.  With Retired from any mortal's sight, it was notable how Purcell used chromaticism to amplify the emotions of the song, creating quite a complex melody which Sampson and Wadsworth made grow rather intense. O Solitude, my sweetest choice saw Sampson's lovely lyrical line unfolding over a ground, and it developed into quite a powerful performance. Finally, the perky charm of When first Amintas sued for a kiss which was quite vigorous and more than a bit saucy!

As an encore, the two played the more traditional version of I would give my love an apple.

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