SOMM Recordings continues its acclaimed championing of neglected British composers with Dame Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads – 17 vocal works with piano and chamber orchestra accompaniment composed between 1886 and 1913.
Contralto Lucy Stevens has a long relationship with Smyth, portraying the composer, political activist and writer in her widely admired stage show Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle. She is joined by her long-time stage companion, pianist Elizabeth Marcus, and Odaline de la Martinez conducting the Berkeley Ensemble. All four are making their debuts on SOMM.
Published in 1886 and receiving their first recordings in English are the five Op.3 Songs and Ballads. Dedicated to Livia Frege, the singer to whom Mendelsohn and Schumann dedicated some of their finest songs, they blend images of the natural world with themes of lost love to reveal Smyth as a songwriter of already considerable gifts.
Dedicated to Smyth’s mother and exploring themes of motherhood while shot through with images drawn from troublesome dreams, the five Op.4 Lieder, settings of German texts, exalt in an emotional palette that ranges from tenderness to trenchant emotion
Three Songs from 1913, composed during the period of Smyth’s suffragette activity – which saw her jailed for two months for throwing a stone through a cabinet minister’s window – deftly combine the political and personal. With lyrics by the suffragist Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, Possession is dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst, On the Road: a marching tune to Pankhurst’s daughter, Christabel. The Clown sets a text by Maurice Baring, whose biography Smyth wrote in 1938.
Written for voice and chamber orchestra, the Four Songs from 1908 boast exquisite orchestrations that revel in Smyth’s associations with artistic circles in France and were hailed by Debussy as “tout à fait remarquables”.
Stevens, who devised the CD’s programme, Martinez and Christopher Wiley provide informative booklet notes.
On This Recording
- Four Songs for voice and chamber orchestra
- The Dance
- Anacreontic Ode
- On the Hill
- The Lost Hunter
- Near the Linden Tree
- It changes what we’re seeing
- Fair Rohtraut
- The Clown
- Possession (Dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst)
- On the Road: a marching tune (Dedicated to Christabel Pankhurst)
Songs and Ballads (Lieder und Balladen), Op. 3*
Lieder, Op. 4
*First recordings in English