J.S. Bach: Cantatas for Soprano

Carolyn Sampson ,Freiburger Barockorchester,Petra Mullejans

J.S. Bach: Cantatas for Soprano
26 May 2017

J.S. Bach: Cantatas for Soprano

Carolyn Sampson ,Freiburger Barockorchester,Petra Mullejans

For biographer Philipp Spitta, Bach’s period as organist and later Konzertmeister to the Duke of Weimar (1708-17) was the time of his ‘early mastery’. Nowhere is this more evident than in the small but highly distinguished body of cantatas he wrote there, whether for the court chapel - the Himmelsburg or ‘Castle of Heaven’ - or for some clearly very joyful wedding (BWV202). From the ravishing duets for soprano and oboe of the latter to the penitential strains of BWV199, the radiant voice of Carolyn Sampson and the virtuosos of the Freiburger Barockorchester do full justice to Bach’s inventiveness.

Soprano Carolyn Sampson has been proclaimed “the best British early music soprano by some distance” by the editors of Gramophone. A native of Bedford, she studied voice with Richard Smart at the University of Birmingham, and made her debut with the English National Opera in a production of Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea and continues to appear with this company with regularity in addition to appearances at the Paris Opera. The vast majority of Sampson’s singing has been heard in concert engagements with period ensembles, and by 2006 she had appeared with most of the best-known groups of this sort, but especially the King’s Consort, Collegium Vocale, and Ex Cathedra. Sampson has recorded extensively for the Hyperion, BIS, Harmonia Mundi, and Deux-elles labels.


J.S. Bach composed for the voice like he did for a string instrument: highly chromatic, with irregular intervallic leaps, not necessarily taking the human limitations of singing into account. Bach asked a lot of his singers, composing long phrases (requiring good breath control), often in uncomfortably high tessituras (requiring impeccable vocal technique). Therefore, his cantatas are not for all voices. Rather, it takes an exceptional singer to successfully navigate Bach’s extraordinarily challenging – but heavenly – vocal music. Enter English soprano Carolyn Sampson, for whom the music of Bach is bread and butter. Her latest recording for Harmonia Mundi – three cantatas from Bach’s Weimar period – affirms her place as a top Bach interpreter.

Sampson’s radiant voice never betrays a hint of such challenges, and in fact she sings this repertoire as though it was composed with her voice in mind. Mein Herze Schwimmt im Blut is a case in point. Not only does Sampson sing with technical brilliance, but she imbues the music with feeling and meaning. I challenge you not to be moved by Sampson’s heart-rending interpretation of the dark ‘Stumme seufzer, stille Klagen’, or her jubilant and tastefully ornamented ‘Wie freudig ist mein Herz’. A fantastic recording from an accomplished soprano.

Alexandra Mathew

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