CD Review – Ethel Smyth: The prison

Ethel Smyth: The prison
Sarah Brailey – soprano
Dashon Burton – bass-baritone
Experiential Chorus and Orchestra
James Blachly – conductor.


Written by James Nightingale

The premiere recording of The prison by Ethel Smyth provides us with a fascinating perspective on this enigmatic composer. Smyth called this unusual work a symphony for soprano, bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra, in which the music explores the final hours of a condemned prisoner’s life as he converses with his soul. (Smyth had herself spent time in prison, being sentenced for her part in a suffragist protest in 1912.) The music is very sensitive and moving, though the insertion of The last post towards the end may be rather cloying to some listeners. It’s thought that Smyth used this tune to memorialise her late friend H.B. Brewster, the author of the text. A wonderful premiere recording, beautifully played and sung, on the Chandos label.

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