- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I purchased this album partly on speculation, because I had been so impressed by three other albums featuring female composers which I recently purchased and reviewed on Amazon (“Women at an Exposition”, “Mots d’Amour: Songs by Cécile Chaminade”, and “Amy Beach: Songs”). As with the other three, this album certainly did not disappoint me and my gamble paid off handsomely. I must admit, I had fiddled the odds a little, since I knew in advance that (like the other three albums), it is dominated by art songs (for which I have a passion) and several of the songs and composers were well known and successful. But there was a sufficient number of songs and composers not known or little-known to me to provide some flavor of a gamble. There are 27 songs, all composed by English women and they cover a longer time-span than the other three albums (the album title states 150 years, but this is only a rough estimate). They are mostly mid- to late-Victorian or Edwardian, but at least one is believed to go back to the early part of the nineteenth century and many more were composed during and after the First World War (perhaps even as late as the 1960s). Nevertheless, it is interesting and surprising that, across this wide expanse of time, the style of the songs is typically very similar to that of the other three albums: mostly beautiful art songs, with a few humorous pieces thrown in, using lyrics based on well-known poets (Shakespeare, Tennyson, Shelley, Byron, Ben Jonson, Hilaire Belloc, W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden, Herrick and Sir Walter Raleigh) and various more humble writers. My favorite song by a long way is “Kashmiri Song”, composed by Amy Woodforde-Finden, which apparently has been enormously popular. It can be noted, as a nice historical footnote, that the delightful words to the song were written by a now-obscure poet ostensibly named Laurence Hope. In fact, it turns out that this was really a ‘nom de plume’ for a certain Adela Florence Nicolson, adopted possibly because many of her works were a trifle too ‘risqué’ for a woman by the standards of the day (early 1900s)! Other memorable songs, in their own different ways, are “Juanita” (very lively), “Orpheus” (a good musical rendering of Shakespeare’s words), the four tracks by Maude Valerié White (especially the animated “Throstle”, from Tennyson’s poem, and the magnificent musical interpretation of Byron’s poem “So we’ll go no more a-roving”), Teresa del Riego’s “Slave Song” (which expresses perfectly the feeling of homesickness and the sadness of a life lost), the six tracks by Liza Lehmann (including two well-known humorous ones) and the two by Elizabeth Maconchy (interpretations of poems by Ben Jonson and Herrick). I will resist the temptation to go on, and mention only two more. “Epitaph”, composed by Phyllis Tate and published in 1948, is appropriately the last track on the album. Its profoundly sad music mirrors perfectly the rueful and poignant words of Sir Walter Raleigh, reportedly written on the eve of his execution. The eponymous “In Praise of Woman” is somewhat prosaic and seems to have been chosen more because it was used as the title for the album’s collection than for its intrinsic merit. Finally, high marks to the very professional Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor) and Graham Johnson (piano) for performing so well such a variety of songs of different quality and style.