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finesse and stylistic assurance

RECORDING OF THE MONTH

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1928)
A Soprano’s Schubertiade
Suleika I (Was bedeutet die Bewegung?) D720 [5.21]
Suleika II (Ach, um deine feuchten Schwingen) D717 [4.17]
Romanze (Der Vollmond strahlt) D797/3B [3.13]
Blondel zu Marien D626 [3.37]
Heiss mich nicht reden D877/2 [3.36]
Nur wer die Sensucht kennt D877 No.4 [3.01]
So last mich scheinen D877 No. 3 [3.31]
Kennst du das Land? D321 [4.14]
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118 [3.38]
Gretchens Bitte/ ‘Gretchen in Zwinger’ D564 [6.47]
Der König in Thule D367 [3.31]
Viola D786 [13.15]
Ellen Gesang I (Raste, Kreiger!) D837 [8.15]
Ellens Gesang II (Jäger, ruhe von der Jagd!) D838 [3.13]
Ellens Gesang III (Ave Maria) D839 [6.08]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Joseph Middleton (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, UK, 2017
Texts and translations included.
BIS BIS-2343 SACD [77.32]

There can be no argument with the statement that Carolyn Sampson is one of the great singers of our time, and many, including myself, have longed to hear a Schubert recital on disc. Expectation can often lead to disappointment, but not so here. This is a wonderful recording, demonstrating from both performers their customary probing intelligence and sensitive insight. Carolyn Sampson is blessed by the rare combination which blends such thoughtfulness with beauty of voice and diction.

The programme demonstrates that care in selection we have come to expect from the Sampson/Middleton team, mixing the familiar with the less well-known, within the overall theme of songs about or for women. Some songs have an immense emotional weight. In ‘Heiss mich nicht reden’ (‘Do not bid me speak ...’) we hear Schubert’s last setting of this powerful Goethe poem about a vow of silence. It is a song of pain and lamentation, with a gentle and lovely opening stanza, which only leads to a more passionate conclusion. The gradation between the two moods is perfectly handled here – the intensity of feeling emerges naturally. Similar joys are found throughout the disc.

It is good to hear these artists’ thoughts on ‘Viola’ from 1823. The verse, by Schubert’s friend Franz von Schober is hardly Goethe but has a romantic melancholy in its long tale of old love, abandonment and shame. It is very fine in itself, and beautifully performed. One senses very well Schubert’s own shame at the onset of his syphilis.

Ave Maria has been recorded so often that it is a daunting piece to include. Here it was as if hearing it for the first time. Walter Scott’s verses, in their German version, require the artists to recognize that each use of ‘Ave Maria’ has a slightly different sense, whether a clamant plea in the second stanza or a gentler consolation in the last appearance.

Almost as familiar is ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’. Superlatives are again in order. Listen to the simple artistry of the closing bars, and there we find in microcosm what is special about this CD.

This is a recital of equals, as it should be. Joseph Middleton is a formidable accompanist. His playing is generally less emphatic than Gerald Moore’s but there is such poetic insight and no lack of muscle when required.

I heard this SACD disc in stereo. Sound quality is excellent, with piano and singer perfectly balanced in a grateful and warm acoustic.

If this does not figure highly as a disc of the year, there is no justice. It is one that will move the listener beyond admiration to love.

Michael Wilkinson

 



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