Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” – and if you are not one of those it is about time you were. She has graced an extensive array of fine recordings over the last decade or so, standing out amongst some starry casts with her impeccable technique and musicality. A few years ago she gave us a superb recital of Rameau arias, Regne Amour, in collaboration with Jeffrey Skidmore’s group Ex Cathedra and follows up with this delightful gem.
The program is a tribute to Marie Fel who was the superstar soprano of the French Baroque, captivating the Paris Opera and Concert Spirituel in a career lasting 35 years. She even inspired the philosopher Rousseau to compose a Salve regina included here. She was the darling of the intelligentsia and her 81 years were full of colourful incident, including bearing three children to three fathers.
If 73 minutes of French Baroque soprano arias might seem a daunting prospect with a whole lot of twittering trills and appoggiaturas, do not be fazed as this program has been cleverly chosen with sacred works, including an Italianate Laudate pueri by Fiocco, choral contributions and a few dance numbers providing a varied sequence easily digested in one sitting. The sacred numbers from De Lalande are especially noteworthy with the Tu Ad Liberandum from his Te Deum a highlight of the recital. Sampson’s control of vibrato and ornament spins a silver thread of breathtaking beauty.
Busier numbers such Mondonville’s birdsong evoking aria Gasouillats auzeléts show off Sampson’s impeccable trills and runs, while her sense of line and phrase transcend the pretty formulaic patterns. As ever, the items by the mighty Rameau have the most impact with his extraordinary sense of orchestral colour. His Un tendre intérêt vous appelle from Castor et Pollux is utterly delicious with Sampson’s limpid tones floating over a dark hued cushion of strings with obbligato bassoons – oh, how Rameau loved the lugubrious colour of massed bassoons!
A divertissement from Les surprises de l’Amour is a delight, its dance numbers lightening the mood. Birmingham-based Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra play and sing as to the manner born while Hyperion supply their usual scholarly notes and perfectly transparent sound quality so this superb disc immediately joins the list of essential items from Sampson’s extensive discography alongside the aforesaid Rameau and her stunning Purcell recital on BIS.