The Friday before I write this, Gramophone magazine announced the shortlist for its 2017 Artist of the Year Award
. Everyone on the shortlist is at the very top of their field. This is a survey of recognised excellence, and it's up to us - The People - to decide who in particular stands out among such company.
I have a lot of time and admiration invested in several of the artists on the list - it includes a few of my favourites - but nonetheless, I know who'll be getting my vote: Carolyn Sampson. Allow me to become a little evangelical about this.
As you'll see from the links I include below, I've written about CS several times. I'm naturally hooked on her voice, beautifully bright, with an agile and precise technique that has perhaps meant that she's been chiefly associated with Baroque music - even though she has turned her hand to much besides. However, in the last few years, I've been following her work with increasing interest and admiration, as her versatility has come to the fore - there's the sense of an artist exploring ideas and opportunities with a kind of zeal, finding and meeting new challenges. Perhaps the key instance of this is her relatively recent move into art song - aided and abetted by the superb Joseph Middleton: the duo producing two of the finest voice/piano albums of the decade. It's also scientifically impossible to come away from one of her performances without being soothed and uplifted.
(Photo for the sleeve of 'A Verlaine Songbook' by Marco Borggreve.)
In case you haven't got round to clicking the link yet, here's the summary Gramophone itself provides in the shortlist announcement:
"Winner of the Recital Award a couple of years ago, Sampson features on no fewer than three Round 2 recordings (Purcell songs, Haydn’s The Seasons and Mozart’s Mass in C minor) and is clearly at the peak of her powers – a lovely singer and a much-loved member of any ensemble."
These are all superb discs - and you can hear selections from a couple of them below. The Purcell album is particularly fine, I think: it's a Wigmore Hall Live CD, and captures all the joyous intimacy of that venue. (Brief technical-hitch based digression: I try and use YouTube where possible for sharing tracks but hardly any of the music I needed for this post was on there - so I've just gone for broke and used Spotify throughout - apologies to anyone who might not use it or have access to it. Just buy the records! You won't be sorry.)
Purcell, 'Not All My Torments Can Your Pity Move':
Haydn, 'The Seasons: How Refreshing to the Senses':
But I'm going to assume Gramophone MUST have been restricted by word count - because CS's last 12 months have been significantly more action-packed. I realise that the magazine's focus is recorded output (rather than live concerts), so please savour her contributions to these excerpts from a marvellous recent 'Missa solemnis' and a great new recording of Bach cantatas...
Beethoven, 'Missa solemnis': 'Kyrie':
Bach, 'Weichet Nur, Betrübe Schatten - VII: 'Sich üben im Lieben':
And as if all that wasn't enough, the latest Sampson/Middleton collaboration, 'A Verlaine Songbook', also appeared within the last year. (I wrote about this magical album in more detail here
.) It's impossible to pick just one highlight, so I'm allowing myself two.
Szulc, 'Clair de lune':
I could go on - especially if we do widen the survey to onstage work. In Scottish Opera's recent production of Debussy's 'Pelléas et Mélisande', CS was dream casting as the doomed heroine. As someone who can radiate pure joy in her recital performances, CS channelled this skilfully into a still enigmatic but also very physical, almost mischievous portrayal that made the descent into despair and tragic conclusion of the story all the more heartbreaking. AND she managed this the same week as a glorious recital with lutenist Matthew Wadsworth (for a fuller write-up of both, go here
CS and JM have another irresistible recital programme up their sleeves (I can only hope this makes it to CD, as well) - it's called 'Reason in Madness' and it reaches Wigmore Hall on 26 July. Here are the treats on offer:
and, if you're in or around London at the right time, here is the handy link for you to buy your ticket
. I don't need to persuade you further, do I?
But in the meantime, whether you can make the gig or not - vote Sampson!