British Music for Strings Features Women Composers

I’ve enjoyed the other two volumes in this series. But this has to be my favorite. It’s comprised of works by British female composers. And that’s significant. The quality of the music is high — and the voices are fresh (at least to these ears). 

The program is a mix of the (relatively) familiar and unfamiliar. Dame Ethel Smyth has come into her own over the last decade. More people have heard her music through recent recordings than during her lifetime. 

Her Suite for Strings, Op. 1A premiered in 1884. The suite has a distinctively British sound. Smyth anticipates the modal harmonies and English melodic motifs of Ralph Vaughan Williams. 

Ruth Gipps is another female composer enjoying a rediscovery. Her 1952 Cringlemire Garden also sounds a little like Vaughan Williams. Only here, Gipps takes the modernist tendencies of RVW and pushes them even further. The would be a great companion piece to “The Lark Ascending.”

Susan Spain-Dunk was a contemporary of Ethel Smyth and a trailblazer. She composed, played in professional string quartets, and conducted the British Women’s Symphony Orchestra. Her Suite for String Orchestra has the English modal aesthetic. It’s a beautifully crafted work that deserves a larger audience. 

Constance Warren came to London from Birmingham to study piano and composition. As a student, she created some exceptional music. And after graduation, never wrote another note. Her short elegiac work “Heather Hill” has echoes of Delius, and hints at Warren’s lost potential. 

Douglas Bostock directs the Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchestere Pforzheim. Though German, the musicians capture the inherent “Englishness” of these works. These are pieces of rare beauty. The orchestra plays them with sympathetic delicacy that adds to their appeal. 

Highly recommended.  

British Music for Strings III: British Women Composers
Music by Ethel Smyth, Susan Spain-Dunk, Constance Warren, and Ruth Gipps
Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchestere Pforzheim; Douglas Bostock, conductor
CPO 555 457-2

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