04 September, 2009

Festival Blogger review - Retrospect Ensemble

Image: Matthew Halls, Director of Retrospect Ensemble.

In this concert we heard two of Bach's less well-known secular cantata’s, 'O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit' and 'Non sa che sia dolore', written when he was director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig.

Perhaps due to its length, 'O holder tag' being Bach’s longest solo cantata, the first piece included more contrast than the second and to my ear was a more satisfying whole. Yet both cantatas proved to be a delight. From the moment soprano Carolyn Sampson opened her mouth I knew we were in for a treat. Her voice sparkled and glistened throughout. This was not easy music and yet she seemed in complete control for the full hour of quite extensive singing. She handled the coloratura masterly and made it seem effortless.

After having heard Sampson I now understand why Gramophone magazine described her as, ‘the best British early music soprano by quite some distance.’ My only criticism would be that Sampson’s voice at times lacked contrast and certain passages would have benefitted from a slightly darker tone. However this is a minor criticism in what was a generally magnificent performance.

Sampson was accompanied by the able Retrospect Ensemble, a group who formed only this year and which has already secured an annual Wigmore Hall season. They played with sensitivity and attention to detail, and were led by the charming Matthew Halls on the harpsichord. The concert finished with a heartbreakingly beautiful encore of 'Bist du bei mir' sung by Sampson and accompanied by basso continuo. Unintentionally, this was perhaps the highlight of the concert and ensured that the audience all left in high spirits.

Reviewer: Fiona Stewart

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