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‘Nature, love and the human condition’ may sound like a baggy, catch-all sort of theme, but here – just like the 17th-century Tree of Life tapestry on the cover – it holds teeming worlds in ordered pattern. Soprano Carolyn Sampson and lutenist and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth place traditional folk songs and broadside ballads alongside their more artful counterparts by Britten, Dowland, Campion and Purcell, all framed by a matching pair of musical bookends.
Hildegard of Bingen’s supple, tactile verse supplies the last word. Her hymn O viridissima virga supplies the horizon line the rest of the recital reaches towards, starting with a direct homage by Nico Muhly – commissioned to respond to the Abbess’s text in a new contemporary translation by Fr Andrew Hammond. You Did Not Want For Joy mirrors the expansive lyricism of the original, free-form arioso unfolding high above the sparest support from Wadsworth. It’s ravishing, the balance of lushness and simplicity perfectly judged in Sampson’s delivery.
Sampson’s sweet, true soprano is on home ground with the early repertoire. From the (initially) unaccompanied starkness of ‘I will give my love an apple’ to the more intricate, oblique Britten folksong arrangements (reworked for theorbo by Wadsworth), she lets the text lead, her diamond-clear delivery supported by Wadsworth’s deftly understated accompaniments. Only in the rather spicier numbers – pickpocket broadside ‘Packington’s Pound’ and Campion’s naughty ‘It fell on a summer’s day’ – do we miss just a little more inflection. Otherwise, these are impeccable performances – a musical meditation on nature, love and all else besides.
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