PURCELL Come all ye Songsters
Cast your eye down the list of artists on Wigmore Live’s latest release and it tells you pretty much all you need to know about the contents. A Baroque supergroup, comprising Elizabeth Kenny, Jonathan Manson and Laurence Cummings, join soprano Carolyn Sampson for a Purcell programme and the results are as glorious as you’d imagine.
What could be just another lovely solo recital is subtly but determinedly refocused here as an ensemble affair. Each of the musicians gets a chance to step into the spotlight, and the result is both a more interesting and a much more satisfying listen than a straight sequence of arias with the obligatory mid-programme instrumental breath-catcher.
Whether it’s Manson’s easy virtuosity in Christopher Simpson’s Divisions on a Ground, Cummings’s delicate ornamentation in Purcell’s Harpsichord Suite No 5 in C or the instinctive musicality of Kenny’s sequence of lute pieces, it all adds up to a sense of dialogue. It’s a dialogue that spills over into the songs themselves, with the instrumentalists very present and forward in the recorded balance for the opening sequence of movements from The Fairy Queen. It’s the instruments that help ignite the explosive Lombardic rhythms and help to articulate the shifting musical moods of ‘Ye gentle spirits’.
But it’s Sampson whose flexible voice (expanding from near-white simplicity in ‘Fairest isle’ to heightened dramatic scope for ‘Not all my torments’ or ‘I see she flies me’) keeps us listening through an inevitably fragmented sequence of short works. Two larger-scale songs – ‘From rosy bow’rs’ and ‘Let the dreadful engines of eternal will’ – anchor the programme and give her greatest vocal scope, shaping Purcell’s arioso-style writing with care and a sense of structural balance and pacing.
Any recording of Purcell songs enters a crowded market but Sampson makes a strong case for her contribution, with just a little help from some starry musical friends.