Not Just Dowland: Vocal Works

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COMPOSERS: Caccini,Dowland,Ferrabosco,Grandi,Johnson,Kapsberger,Merula,Monteverdi,Piccinini & Rosseter
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Vocal works by Caccini, Dowland, Ferrabosco, Grandi, Johnson, Kapsberger, Merula, Monteverdi, Piccinini & Rosseter
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Matthew Wadsworth (lute, theorbo)
CATALOGUE NO: WHLIve 0034

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It’s surely a tribute to the artfully seductive programming of this live recital that the several episodes of applause break the spell so intrusively. Not Just Dowland espouses an Anglo-Italian sequence punctuating songs with instrumental items that ‘prelude’ most appositely, or contrive to comment on what’s just been heard.

Matthew Wadsworth’s lute and theorbo don’t simply provide a change of texture and respite from the imperatives of the sung word, they craft a seamless expressive narrative. With iconic Dowland heading up the English contingent, a pervasive melancholy finds Carolyn Sampson oppressed into a benumbed hush at the beginning of ‘In darkness let me dwell’, petering out in a bleak resignation at the end. And the veiled restraint of ‘Fortune my foe’ amplifies her controlled understatement which floats Robert Johnson’s ‘Care-charming sleep’, 

voice and lute breathing as one in beguiling imploration. The pain of love is a recurring theme throughout the programme but Sampson is careful never to over-egg the grief, always keeping in reserve extremities of emotion for the very darkest moments – and she never distorts the musical line by over-dramatisation.

After Dowland, Matthew Wadsworth swaps his lute for the theorbo and Italy beckons – its musical inhabitants rather less inclined than the English to doleful surrender. Monteverdi’s ‘Quel sguardo sdegnosetto’ is a call to amorous arms, answered by Sampson’s effortless playfulness and rapture, the gleeful flourish in ‘riso’ (‘laughter’) enticingly devil-may care. And she’s smoulderingly voluptuous in Grandi’s erotically-charged ‘O quam tu pulchra es’, beautifully complemented by Piccinini’s tactile Toccata XIII. 

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Everything leads to Merula’s part-lullaby, part-lament ‘Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nonna’, a vocal fantasy conflating Christmas and Easter in a mesmerising skein of anguish and tenderness. Paul Riley