Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Prison

Henry Bennett Brewster wrote The Prison: A Dialogue in 1891, and Dame Ethel Smyth in her 1930 similarly-titled choral work, The Prison based its sung text on Brewster’s philosophical-poetic treatise. CHANDOS is releasing a recording of Dame Ethel Smyth’s final work and the results are very good indeed.

Dame Ethel Smyth, a fierce feminist, a passionate suffragist, and above all an immensely-gifted composer, endured neglect and patronizing sexism during her life, in spite of having the friendship and support of the likes of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruno Walter, Sir Thomas Beecham and Donald Tovey.

In spite of many challenges and by dint of an unrelenting work ethic, Dame Ethel became the first woman composer to be given the title of Dame and the first one of her sex to have a production at the Metropolitan Opera – The Forest in 1903.

Structured in two parts and sixteen movements The Prison, here in its world premiere recording, is a fascinating composition that notwithstanding the sui generis quality of Smyth’s music, has its musical roots in the massive orchestrations, sweeping melodic lines and harmonic expansiveness of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler.

The work’s part-narrative, part-meditative text tells of a man imprisoned in a cell of the mind who – through a process of communing with his soul and through it with the universe – achieves an elevated state of enlightenment as he joyfully journeys towards a worldly death and a spiritual rebirth beyond the end of life.        

Here the silvery-voiced soprano Sarah Brailey and the impressive bass-baritone Dashon Burton deliver perfect performances, both equally earmarked by flawless vocalism, intelligent restraint, and utmost elegance. James Blachly who leads the superb Experiential Orchestra and Chorus with balance and clarity must also be given credit for the resurrection of this work in its revised edition. The young maestro elicits a wonderful performance from all the forces he helms in a one-of-a-kind addition to the recorded repertoire available on various platforms.

For more information contact Simon Astridge: sastridge@chandos.net

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

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