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Elysium – A Schubert Recital (Lieder)

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano) (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Lieder: Elysium; Schwestergruss; Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen; Wiegenlied; Die junge Nonne; Du bist die Ruh; Nacht und Träume; Ganymed; Auf dem Wasser zu singen; An den Mond; Der liebliche Stern; Der Musensohn; Abschied von der Erde etc
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
BIS BIS-2573 (CD/SACD)   68:30 mins

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Acclaimed recitalists Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton continue their long-standing partnership in this album of Schubert songs centring on a mythical Paradise. Evocations of paradise are occasionally melancholy and sentimental, as shown by the opening ‘Schwestergruss’, but no matter – a dominant mood of luminous grace soon emerges. Tempos lean towards stately – no frivolity in this album’s heavenly realm – and this lends dignity to the album overall. ‘An den Mond’ (a heartbreaking favourite of mine) is delivered with pathos. ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ is gently reflective. ‘Nacht und Träume’, rarely heard in high voice, is positively angelic and the slow pace works well.

Some songs might benefit from a different treatment. ‘Ganymed’ is not as turbulent as Goethe’s priapic text suggests; major-minor ‘Der liebliche Stern’ could be more bittersweet; a higher transposition of ‘Allerseelen’ might have allowed it to share the ethereal quality of the rest of the album (compare the glowing ‘An die Nachtigall’ or ‘Du bist die Ruh’).

These quibbles aside, the artists showcase their distinctive strengths here. The balance of sound towards the treble celebrates the fresh beauty of Sampson’s voice. The counterbalancing gravitas of topics and tempos allows Middleton to trace long structural lines. Yes, I occasionally wanted more consonants and less sustaining pedal, but the total effect is as soothing as one hopes Paradise will be. This album has a dignified tranquillity, enhanced by crystal-clear sound quality, and the eminent Susan Youens supplies characteristically insightful liner notes.

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Natasha Loges