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Soprano Carolyn Sampson makes Carnegie Hall debut

Soprano Carolyn Sampson

Carolyn Sampson


“If music be the food of love, sing on till I am filled with joy!” And that is exactly what Carolyn Sampson did as she made her Carnegie Hall recital debut in Weill Hall last Thursday evening with a program entirely devoted to Henry Purcell. She was accompanied on the harpsichord by Kenneth Weiss, on the archlute by Paul O'Dette, and on the viola da gamba by Beiliang Zhu. One would think that having only one composer on the bill might make the evening static and one dimentional, but when the singer is of a talent possed by Ms. Sampson, the evening is anything but a bore.

She made her entrance in a stunning burgundy sleeveless dress which mimicked the music’s bare expressionism; a wise choice.

She chose some well known works as well as some lesser known pieces by the English composer. In her first set, she was able to show off her beautiful expression of poetry, and made the music come alive, particularly during “Music for a while.” In Purcell’s “Sweeter than roses,” she conveyed her gorgeous taffy-pull lyricism through which she was able to fill the befittingly small hall with glorious music.

After the first set, Mr. O’Dette mused that it was rather difficult finding music for his instrument. So the interlude pieces were of his own setting. He asked the audience to speak to him afterwards and discuss whether they worked or not. Not only did they work, they were great time capsules of music that transported one to a different era. It is not every day that one hears this music played on their original instruments, and we were fortunate to hear these creations live. Mr. Weiss performed with great virtuosity and Ms. Zhu flexed a wonderfully dramatic tone with Mr. O’Dette during their duet in the second half of the program.

Ms. Sampson’s spent the evening traipsing between the lighter and darker sides of her voice. The darker coming quite convincingly in “Oh! Fair Cedaria, hide those eyes,” and most especially during “the fatal hour comes on apace.” This piece in particular showed her delicate balance between the gritty underbelly of the text and the light high-range of the music. She was able to give us the sweetest, lightest notes at the end of “O solitude, my sweetest choice,” but was still able to portray there was so much more behind it than just a pretty voice. It was truly a delicious feats for the ears. She knows exactly how to seamlessly navigated her break and even has colors reminiscent of Kathleen Battle (at least in her upper register).

But one thing must be said about the recital. I do wish Ms. Sampson was a bit more confident in her text. All throughout the evening she would hold us in rapt, then tear away to her music stand (seemingly in fright during “When first Amintas sued for a kiss”), then back at us, totally changing her facial expression in the process, thus taking us, momentarily, out of the moment. During her encore she expressed that she was upset with herself for flubbing some of the words in this piece, and so she wanted to do it over again. Of course we were the better for it, however, I do wish she would have used the stand less and looked at us more. And that’s all I’ll say about that…

For more information about Carolyn Sampson, click here.

For more information about Carnegie Hall, click here.

For more information about Beiliang Zhu, click here.

For more information about Paul O’Dette, click here.

For more information about Kenneth Weiss, click here.

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