Matthew Wadsworth/Carolyn Sampson, Wigmore Hall, London

Reviewed by Michael Church
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The Independent Culture

The soprano Carolyn Sampson is blessed with a lovely voice and physical presence; the lutenist Matthew Wadsworth is blessed with a wonderfully philosophical attitude to the blindness that has afflicted him since birth. And as his new CD The Knight of the Lute demonstrates, he really is a class apart among exponents of this increasingly popular musical instrument.

Consisting of works by John Dowland and others, that CD has an austere beauty: bringing his long-term musical partner Carolyn Sampson into the equation at the Wigmore resulted in a beauty that was the opposite of austere. And Sampson, celebrating her post-maternity return to the stage, is in splendid voice.

"Not Just Dowland" was the programme's title, designed to celebrate both him and other lute composers from the turn of the 17th century. After welcoming us into that purer musical world with a prelude by Philip Rosseter, they regaled us with songs Robert Johnson composed for plays of the day. Sitting beside Wadsworth, and singing as much to him as to us, Sampson established a fireside confidentiality, using a folk-ballad tone with just the faintest hint of vibrato: her warm, open sound was arrestingly expressive.

When Wadsworth brought on the theorbo, and the songs became darker, we were in a different realm. Sampson's "In Darkness Let Me Dwell" began as a sad exhalation, dramatically broadening in plangency before dying back again. For some rarely performed Monteverdi songs, she reminded us what a fabulous sound she can summon up, while Wadsworth brought out the fruits of his musicological research. Everything was so perfect, the evening seemed to pass in a flash.