Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton Provide Reason In Madness

It was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote, "There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness".  Soprano Carolyn Sampson and pianist Joseph Middleton took this quote, and used it when compiling their list of songs for 'Reason In Madness', the collective title given to their recital at St Peter Mancroft on Monday. The concert formed part of the music programme to this year's Norfolk & Norwich Festival

In a programme of twelve songs, no less than five take as their inspiration the ill-fated story of Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Yet it is the German legend of Faust that opens the evening, in a rendition of Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade  (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) - in the legend Gretchen is seduced by Faust and gives birth to his bastard child. It is only the rhythm of the spinning wheel that manages to keep her rooted to reality.

Four further songs, all beautifully sung in German by Sampson, and with an almost telepathic connection to Joseph Middleton's piano, follow - three inspired by Ophelia (including a towering version of  Strauss' Der Lieder der Ophelia that reveals the sad truth of Ophelia's abandonment), before ending the first half with Hugo Wolf's Mignon Lieder.

In the second half we are treated to six pieces from French composers, including Saint-Saens and Chausson's takes on the Ophelia story, but first we hear Henri Duparc's take on the story of Mignon from Goethe's 'Kennst du das Land' (Do You Know The Land?).  Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis, three erotically charged songs based on the poetry of Pierre Lou├┐s, is probably my highlight of the second half, although the decadent tale of Poulenc's La dame de Monte Carlo, which ends with her throwing herself into the Mediterranean, provides a suitably dramatic climax.

St Peter Mancroft proved a splendid venue to the concert, with the stained glass window behind the altar, and the gentle pink glow from the stage lighting providing a sensitive and calming backdrop. Only the occasional roar of an engine from the designated motorcycle parking area next door managed to intrude on what was a delightful evening.

A short distance away in The Assembly House the Norfolk & Norwich Festival audience for The Voice Project would be bedding down for the first performance of their somnifacient ten and a half hour production, 'In the Arms of Sleep'. I instead purchase a copy of Carolyn and Joseph's 'Fleurs' album, which they both kindly sign. I get home and place the disc in the CD player of the hi-fi in my bedroom. I too drift off to sleep listening to beautiful music. But I have inadvertently set the disc to  'repeat', meaning that for the entire night I am also drifting in and out of sleep, and am aware of Carolyn's singing and Joseph's piano playing right the way through until morning. My own personal version of 'In the Arms of Sleep'.

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