The madwoman is a staple of opera, but not so much of art song. The program here is tricky from the start because the intimate nature of the song genre forecloses many of the typical operatic depictions. The medium-sized, but extremely agile voice of soprano Carolyn Sampson succeeds ideally here, but that's not the end of the delights. This is one of those releases where you might take issue with one interpretation or another (from the perspective of this writer, Wolf is not an ideal match for Sampson's voice), yet you have to applaud the sheer boldness of the entire project. For one thing, Sampson, who is not German or French, is still one of the few singers equally adept in the art song styles of those two nationalities. For another, the program is impressive in its ambition. The title comes from an epigram of Nietzsche: "There is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness." The concept allows Sampson to cast her net widely. The prime attraction is Ophelia, famous from Shakespeare down to The Band (the group's claim its song was named for country comedienne Minnie Pearl is not credible). She shows up in fairly obscure songs by Brahms, Richard Strauss, Saint-Saëns, and Chausson. One of Brahms' Ophelia songs, written for a Shakespeare production, opens the program in its striking original unaccompanied version. However, there are also other forms of madness: from the intoxicated sexuality of Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis to Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade, D. 118. Sample the latter for a really original and compellingly controlled version of that chestnut that shows Sampson's impressive degree of trusting interaction with longtime accompanist, Joseph Middleton. There are also songs devoted to Goethe's Mignon (four by Wolf, one by Henri Duparc) and some single items. The album closes with two mini-dramas by Duparc and Francis Poulenc. Each of these songs requires different vocal and emotional resources from Sampson, and she and the program do not flag. A final attraction is the sound from Potton Hall in Suffolk, where the BIS engineers have achieved an expertise rivaling those from Hyperion. Brava, brava!
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Drei Lieder der Ophelia, Op. 67|
|Chansons de Bilitis, L97 (90)|
|Chansons, Op. 28|