Carolyn Samp­son is at her best with Ver­laine, Mozart

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS&STYLE - — Charles T. Downey style@wash­post.com

Carolyn Samp­son is known for her ra­di­ant per­for­mances of baroque mu­sic, hav­ing recorded widely with the world’s lead­ing ear­ly­mu­sic en­sem­bles. The Bri­tish so­prano’s voice com­bines limpid clar­ity with laser-fo­cused pre­ci­sion, but with any pos­si­ble harsh edges soft­ened in a smooth fin­ish. It is also beau­ti­fully suited to the cor­rupt del­i­ca­cies of late ro­man­tic French mélodie, as demon­strated in Samp­son’s re­cent song recital record­ing on the BIS la­bel, with the ac­com­plished pi­anist Joseph Mid­dle­ton.

All of the songs here are set­tings of poetry by Paul Ver­laine. Some of the early works were in­spired by Ver­laine’s love for Mathilde Mauté, the young girl with the “Carolin­gian name,” as he put it in his col­lec­tion “La Bonne Chan­son,” set as a cy­cle by Gabriel Fauré. Ver­laine mar­ried Mathilde, but not long af­ter she had borne him a son, he ran off with a young poet named Arthur Rim­baud. Their scan­dalous love af­fair pro­vided much of the ma­te­rial for his col­lec­tion “Ro­mances sans paroles,” in­clud­ing the poems set by De­bussy in a set called “Ari­ettes ou­bliées.” Af­ter time in prison, Ver­laine ran off again with Lu­cien Léti­nois, a 17-year-old stu­dent at the Je­suit school where Ver­laine taught.

Mul­ti­ple com­posers have com­tas posed songs on the same Ver­laine poems, which makes for in­ter­est­ing com­par­i­son of mu­si­cal set­tings. Samp­son pairs De­bussy’s “Fêtes galantes” with songs on poems from the same col­lec­tion by Poldowski, the nom de plume of Bel­gian-born pi­anist Régine Wieni­awski. In­di­vid­ual songs by other com­posers, in­clud­ing Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes and Rey­naldo Hahn, round out a most at­trac­tive pro­gram. Songs such as Déo­dat de Séverac's “Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit” and Josef Szulc’s “Clair de Lune” are ma­jor dis­cov­er­ies.

Through­out, Samp­son pro­duces an el­e­gant rib­bon of sound, couched in re­fined French pro­nun­ci­a­tion, that can hang in the air — for in­stance, a long, exquisitely soft high G at the end of Chaus­son’s “Apaise­ment.” The only mi­nor set­back is that when pushed to louder dy­nam­ics, Samp­son’s voice loses some of its satiny qual­ity, turn­ing stri­dent, but this is rare in the songs here. — Charles T. Downey

When Masaaki Suzuki reached the end of his epic tra­ver­sal of Bach’s sa­cred canta- with Bach Col­legium Ja­pan, he turned to Mozart. The Ja­panese con­duc­tor’s au­thor­i­ta­tive record­ing of Mozart’s Re­quiem was one of my fa­vorite discs of 2015, and opened up a new line of spe­cial­iza­tion for his en­sem­ble be­yond the mu­sic of its name­sake. Shortly af­ter its re­lease, Suzuki con­ducted an­other Mozart Mass, the “Great” C Mi­nor, with the Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Orches­tra in an as­tound­ing per­for­mance. Now, his record­ing of this work, with Bach Col­legium Ja­pan, is out on the BIS la­bel.

It was hoped that Suzuki’s Re­quiem was the start of a recorded re-ex­am­i­na­tion of Mozart’s mu­sic for the Catholic Church. Mozart left the “Great” C Mi­nor Mass, like his Re­quiem, un­fin­ished; he be­gan it in Vi­enna as a com­plete set­ting of the Latin Or­di­nary but per­formed only parts of it on a hon­ey­moon visit to Salzburg, Aus­tria, with his wife, Con­stanze, in 1783. Suzuki has used the mu­si­col­o­gist Franz Beyer’s care­ful re­con­struc­tion of the score, and the rel­e­vant his­tor­i­cal de­tails are laid out in a su­perla­tive book­let es­say by Christoph Wolff.

Suzuki takes the open­ing Kyrie at a most sat­is­fy­ing, slow, grand tempo, like a dig­ni­fied, crisply or­ga­nized funeral march. The “Qui tol­lis” sec­tion of the “Glo­ria” has an equally cathe­dral-fill­ing sound from both cho­rus and orches­tra.

Mezzo-so­prano Olivia Ver­meulen, tenor Makoto Saku­rada and bass Chris­tian Im­ler ably take their parts in the quar­tet of vo­cal soloists. The star of this score, though, is the first so­prano, a part writ­ten for and pre­miered by Mozart’s wife. It seems tailor-made for Carolyn Samp­son. In the ex­tended show­piece “Et in­car­na­tus est” in the “Credo,” she in­ter­weaves her im­mac­u­late so­prano with the in­tri­cate wood­wind lines, sweet and ten­der.

Round­ing out the record­ing is Mozart’s fa­mous can­tata “Ex­sul­tate, ju­bi­late,” from a decade ear­lier, al­though here Samp­son’s fast runs are not quite pris­tine. As a lagniappe, Suzuki has added Mozart’s slightly re­vised ver­sion of the first move­ment — more a cu­rios­ity than an ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity.

A VER­LAINE SONGBOOK Carolyn Samp­son Joseph Mid­dle­ton, pi­anist BIS

MOZART Great Mass in C Mi­nor/ Ex­sul­tate, ju­bi­late Bach Col­legium Ja­pan, Carolyn Samp­son BIS

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