Premiere Recording of Dame Ethel Smyth's 'The Prison'

Premiere Recording of Dame Ethel Smyth's 'The Prison'

There is much that is striking, from the way in which Smyth draws in the scene around the prisoner's voice at the very start, to the hint of a solemn Bach chorus at the end of the first half, and the echoing Last Post honouring the moment of death.
— Erica Jeal, The Guardian
The first recording of the choral symphony The Prison, the final major work by Dame Ethel Smyth, was released by Chandos at the beginning of August 2020. James Blachly, who edited the score and parts from manuscript, leads bass-baritone Dashon Burton (The Prisoner), soprano Sarah Brailey (His Soul), and the the Experiential Orchestra and Chorus. In 2018, Blachly led the The Johnstown Symphony and Cecilia Chorus of New York in the work's first orchestral performances at Johnstown, PA, and Carnegie Hall.

Smyth (1858-1944) was a composer, suffragist, and outspoken lesbian in Victorian England. She was jailed in 1910 after a political protest. The conductor Sir Thomas Beecham encountered her leading the women prisoners in march and protest song when he visited Smyth behind bars.

Determined to compose, she studied in Germany against her father's wishes. She met Dvorak, Grieg, Brahms, and Clara Schumann, among others; Tchaikovsky said, "Miss Smyth is one of the comparatively few women composers who may be seriously reckoned among the workers in this sphere of music." The Metroplitan Opera presented her Der Wald in 1903. Met audiences had to wait until 2016 for it to perform a woman's music on its stage again, L'Amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho.

The Prison, written before hearing loss ended her composing, was Smyth's last large-scale work. In a dialogue between The Prisoner and The Soul, it explores the prison of our mind and our pursuit of truth.

Read David Allen's article on the recording in The New York Times

Peruse the new edition of the score

Watch a mini-dcoumentary on Smyth and The Prison

Listen to the album

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