Handel’s Sampson: She’s Got It All!
by Mel Cooper
The closing night of this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center was spectacular: a delerious
crowd stood and cheered for conductor Louis Langrée, for Handel (when Langrée brandished the score of the Creation overhead), for the chorus, the orchestra and its soloists, and especially for the three singers: baritone Peter Rose, tenor Matthew Polenzani, and…Carolyn Sampson. It was supernal music-making, and Sampson thrilled the audience. She got, my spies tell me, in a city that has seen too little of her so far, an ovation that promised to correct that lapse soon. She is, in my spies’ opinion, (and in mine) a singer for all seasons.
This being a Handel anniversary (250 years since he died), I tracked Sampson back to two recent CDs, Get them, and you will hear a strikingly clear-voiced soprano in a deeply satisfying new Messiah with The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers. Historically informed, cleanly played, rhythmically well-sprung; it is, as always with The Sixteen, soulful and meticulously interpreted. Sampson’s rapturous voice and emotionally sensitive rendering of the text are among the many joys of this performance—a performance that is right up there with the classic Mackerras set of 1965, or Marriner’s Dublin performance of 1992.
Sampson started out in the choir of The Sixteen. As a soloist, she is much associated with The King’s Consort. With them, she has recorded for Hyperion (by now a familiar name to readers of this column), a wonderfully contemplative disc of the nine Handel arias—rare settings of poems by Barthold Heinrich Brockes, a long-time German friend—in Handel’s native language, made at the height of his English career (around 1724). Sampson’s vocal and interpretative skills mark her as one of the most extraordinary Handel singers in the world today. Some oboe sonatas fill out a disc that is a lovely programme for a quiet night by the fire as winter comes. The recording is low-key perfection, and an excellent display of the beauty and control of Sampson’s singing. You can also hear her on superb recordings of Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia and of Parnasso in Festa.
But my top recommendation, along with that Messiah, is her recording of Handel Duets with counter-tenor Robin Blaze and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Those are the five-star Handel discs in this roundup. And Sampson is definitely a five-star soprano.
But for real joy in music, try her recording of Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate! Also on Hyperion, and again with the King’s Consort, it includes both versions of Mozart’s youthful Regina coeli and the lagniappe of some stray arias. More lagniappe: on the cover, a cheeky photo of the immensely attractive Sampson in person.
Yes, definitely for a not-so-quiet night by the fire. Winter may just never come………….