Considering her sizable discography, 2015’s Fleurs was surprisingly Carolyn Sampson’s first song recital. It turned out a corker and set a very high bar for a follow-up. I can happily report that this release comfortably vaults that bar.
The clever thematic programming continues, this time in various settings of Symbolist Decadent Paul Verlaine’s moonlit evocations. Debussy’s setting of Fêtes Galantes, Ariettes Oubliées and Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson are old favourites along with Hahn’s lovely L’heure Exquise and Tous Deux, but the five settings by Poldowski, aka Régine Wieniawski (daughter of the violin composer), are an unfamiliar treat; accomplished vocal writing, gorgeous harmonies and imaginative accompaniments – her En Sourdine is delicious.
The performances are breathtakingly beautiful. As expected from the impeccable Sampson there is some astonishingly pure and precisely controlled vocalism, but lest she be typecast as an early music specialist there has been a perceptible increase in richness and colour over the last few years. Her delivery is mostly intimate and confessional, the full voice used sparingly so at key moments when it opens out and expands the result is spine-tingling. She has an ideal partner in Joseph Middleton, a superb musician with a keen ear whose hypersensitive touch draws subtle colours and washes of sound from an immaculately prepared instrument.
There are some truly magical moments when singer and pianist are in perfect symbiosis of colour and articulation; Ravel’s Sur l’herbe is two minutes of such perfection, its subtle wit conveyed with a sly wink and knowing smile in the voice. The recording does full justice to the performers with ideal balance in a lovely acoustic and just enough reverberation to let the voice bloom. Another first-class release from a dedicated artist with one of the loveliest voices of our time. This is something to savour.