Schubert A Soprano’s Schubertiade: Lieder including ‘Viola’, Gesänge aus ‘Wilhelm Meister’, Suleika I & II, etc
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
BIS BIS-2343 (hybrid CD/SACD) 77:32 mins
This disc puzzled me. Carolyn Sampson, whom I have admired in concert and on other recordings, here devotes herself to some of Schubert’s most beautiful and moving songs, as well as a few dull ones. But what has happened to her diction? Even when following the microscopic accompanying texts, I sometimes found it difficult to hear what she is singing. She has a pure, bell-like voice, reminiscent of Elisabeth Schumann and Lucia Popp, and she is especially reminiscent of Popp in employing a style which swells on almost every note, sometimes to irritating effect. Where Popp and certainly Schumann (who had the most bell-like voice of all) had excellent diction, Sampson sings from vowel to vowel, the consonants have almost wholly vanished. After her admirable accompanist Joseph Middleton has executed his preliminary flourish, Sampson launches into the song known as Suleika I. I defy anyone, listening cold, to guess rightly what language it is, let alone what the words are.
It’s a shame, for the choice of songs and the order in which they are sung is intelligent, though at the centre of the recital there is a rare song, Viola, which lasts for 13 minutes and is a complete bore. Its words are by Franz von Schober, one of Schubert’s close friends, fond of flowery and over-extended metaphors, and here at his worst. It is preceded here by Mignon’s four songs from Wilhelm Meister, small masterpieces but needing clear enunciation. They don’t get it.