Carolyn Sampson: Fleurs
Amid a clutch of floral favourites – say, Purcell’s ‘Sweeter than roses’ (in Britten’s flamboyant arrangement), Schumann’s ‘Jasminenstrauch’ and Fauré’s ‘Les roses d’Ispahan’ – Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton range well off the beaten track to embrace such rarities as Lili Boulanger’s dreamy, liquescent ‘Les lilas qui avaient fleuri’ and Strauss’s beguiling Mädchenblumen songs. Always a lovely Baroque singer, Sampson vividly suggests the mounting erotic excitement of ‘Sweeter than roses’, often sung merely as a sweet love song. But with hints of deeper colours in her vernal soprano, she is hardly less persuasive in Romantic song. She sings Schubert’s ‘Die Blumensprache’ and ‘Im Haine’ with fresh, smiling tone, gracefully negotiating the ornamental turns and melismas. To Schumann’s fragile, self-communing miniatures she brings an ideal delicacy and Innigkeit, not least in the gently floated high notes and magical pianissimo close of the rare ‘Die Blume der Ergebung’. Here and elsewhere Middleton creates limpid, luminous textures and reveals a subtle feeling for Schummanesque rubato.
If Sampson sounds slightly stretched by the climax of ‘Mohnblumen’, most extrovert of the Mädchenblumen songs, her silver-spun lines and radiance in alt make for enchanting performances of ‘Kornblumen’, with its long, Italianate cantilena, and the mysterious ‘Wasserrose’. In Britten’s unquiet Pushkin setting ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ her purity of timbre and relative restraint are just as moving as the more unbridled performance by Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich (Decca, 6/70). In French song, too, Sampson is in her element, whether in the blithe, seductive grace of Gounod’s ‘Le temps des roses’ or the hothouse torpor of Debussy’s ‘De fleurs’, where she and Middleton respond sensitively to the sultry, shifting harmonies. After so much languor and wistfulness, the mingled passion and playful mockery – nicely caught by Sampson – of Chabrier’s ‘Toutes les fleurs!’ provides a delectable envoi to an imaginatively planned, beautifully executed recital that charms and touches by turns.