Oh, let us howl
Fortune my foe
Pavan in C minor
Have you seen the bright lily grow?
Can she excuse my wrongs
In darkness let me dwell
Quel sguardo sdegnosetto
O quam tu pulchra es
Partite Variate Sopra La Folia
Amarilli mia bella
Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nonna
Carolyn Sampson (soprano) & Matthew Wadsworth (lute & theorbo)
Recorded 7 December 2008 at Wigmore Hall, London
Reviewed by: Melanie Eskenazi
Reviewed: February 2010
CD No: WIGMORE HALL LIVE
Duration: 76 minutes
“Not just Dowland” is presumably thus titled to remind us that Lute and Voice together do not only melancholy make, and this selection of Monteverdi, Caccini, Johnson and others, including of course Dowland, proves the point admirably.
Carolyn Sampson’s voice is one of great purity and sweetness, richer than that of Emma Kirkby yet equally adept in Medieval and Renaissance song, and she blends superbly with the lute and theorbo of Matthew Wadsworth, surely the most engaging lutenist around today. Wadsworth sets the programme’s tone with an intimate Prelude by Philip Rosseter, followed by three songs by the remarkable Robert Johnson, the only composer known to have written for Shakespeare. Here, we have songs from plays by Beaumont, Fletcher, Webster and, at encore time, Ben Jonson: “Care-charming sleep” being particularly finely done, the words “oh gently slide / And kiss him into slumbers like a bride” ethereal in their fine-spun line.
Dowland is shown at his best here, in “Fortune my foe” and ‘In darkness let me dwell”, the former troubling in its major-minor evocation of the twists and turns of life and the latter so inventively onomatopoeic in its “jarring, jarring sounds” – Carolyn Sampson rises to both moods with loving skill.
The Italian songs present different challenges, this time accompanied by theorbo and allowing Sampson to reveal her mastery of the long phrases and understanding of the stile concitato which forms the basis of much of this music. Monteverdi’s “Quel sguardo sdegnosetto” is one of the neglected gems of this period: set to a gently rocking rhythm at the outset, the music speeds up to a gallop at “a l’armi, a l’armi” and then slows to a languid sigh at “in fin ch’io Venga meno!” (even until I faint) – both singer and lutenist relish the opportunities for expressiveness provided by this wonderful song.
Kapsberger’s Toccata arpeggiata was clearly the virtuoso hit of the evening for Wadsworth with the insouciant dexterity of the playing, and Tarquinio Merula’s “Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nonna” matches mesmerizingly rapt singing of the lullaby with the insistent, steady heartbeat of the theorbo. The encore, “Have you seen the bright lily grow?” is a perfect way to end this excursion into the realms of the lute song, not “Semper dolens, Semper Dowland” but full of varied delights.
The recording is yet another feather in the cap of the Wigmore Hall Live series: the sound is spacious, bright and clean, somehow seeming to evoke the Hall’s unique acoustic, and the overall presentation is classy, with an erudite booklet note by Hilary Finch and some stylish photography. The Wigmore label continues to add to its reputation for presenting both standard and quirky repertoire in a most audience-friendly style.