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CD Feature/ Carolyn Sampson: "Henry Purcell - Victorious Love"

img  Tobias

„I love Purcell, I'm a real fan“, Carolyn Sampson told Dutch Magazine „Klassieke Zaken“ („Classical Affairs“) for their recent title story on the Bedford-born London Soprano, „But I feel that singers are often too careful with his songs, they're presenting them too innocently.“ Her relationship with Purcell, then, is not one of glace kid gloves nor of an unhealthy dose of reverence, which rules out all creativity and freedom on her part. Rather, it is one of true admiration for his art and of a deep sense of mission to present his songs in an inspired and emphatic light. Her new album has therefore not turned out a stern and sterile old music release, but a powerful contemporary rollercoster ride through some of Purcell's most remarkable moments.

A playful approach
The strangest thing is that so few have tried to go down a similar road before. Approaching Purcell playfully, after all, does not necessarily mean taking all too many risks. Instead, the music actually seems to beg for it. „Be she well or ill array'd, Queen, slut, or harridan/ Yet man is for the woman made/ And the woman for the man“, Sampson exclaims in „Man is for the Woman made“ and both the piece's topic and the way she pleasurably clicks her tongue to the word „slut“ demonstrate the worldly and sensual appeal these tracks can have when interpreting them from a different, more daring angle. There are many more examples for this kind of deep and detailed look into the text on „Victorious Love“, as well as for taking all the necessary decisions as a logical consequence.

When Sampson pronounces the word „cool“, there really seems to be a frosty wind blowing through the air and when she sings „Wond'ring how your pains were eas'd and disdaining to be please'd/Till Alecto free the dead from their eternal bands“ the words suddenly start making sense, regardless of whether the listener is aware of the mythological backgrounds or not. On other occasions, though, Carolyn Sampson chooses to let the melodic lines flow and to emphasise the music, rather than the lyrics. It is not eccentricity she is after, but a well-founded, yet emotional sense of what is important in the situation at hand – and what isn't.

Alterations in the arrangements
Despite the obvious center-stage position she holds on „Victorious Love“, however, the ensemble supporting her has taken some equally personal and noteworthy decisions. It is even Elizabeth Kenny, who signs responsible for the lute and theorbo (a special, long-necked version of the former) parts, rather than Sampson who expounds and explains the alterations or additions in instrumentation or arrangement in the liner notes of the booklet: The replacement of violins with recorders on „The Bashful Thames“ (more voluptous and dramatic) or the restoration of the original sections for the entire group in „If Love's a Sweet Passion“(more opulent and emotive), for example. And she also puts these changes in contxt with Purcell's wish for a „Gebrauchsmusik“, which could be altered to please different performers. As a result, the disc has turned out eclectic and colourful, with changing settings for each piece.

It is true that the catchiness and inventive nature of some of these compositions would survive even if I decided to sing them (which, believe me, you wouldn't want to hear). But that is not the point. Carolyn Sampson designed the album as a work which demonstrates what an incredible potential still lingers in the Purcell's songs, if they are treated as living art instead of historical documents. „My approach may be slightly less reverential than that of others.“, she admitted in the abovementioned interview, „But I'd say the songs can take it“. This release, a victorious statement of her love for the composer indeed, prooves she is right with that assertion.

By Tobias Fischer

Source: Carolyn Sampson at Klassieke Zaken
Homepage: Carolyn Sampson at Ingpen & Williams
Homepage: BIS Records

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