Heart & Hereafter: African Romances, Op. 17; Sorrow Songs, Op. 57, etc.
Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano), Simon Lepper (piano)
Orchid Classics ORC100164 55:34 mins
The Song of Hiawatha, hugely popular a century ago, is still the work most commonly associated with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Much of his other music – he had 80 opus numbers to his credit when he died in 1912, aged 37 – lies unrecorded, so this new recording of songs by the London-born composer is a refreshingly bold act of recuperation. It’s also the English soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn’s debut recital disc, and she’s a persuasive advocate for this largely unknown repertoire. Llewellyn has extensive operatic experience – she starred in the Metropolitan Opera’s Porgy and Bess two years ago – and it shows in the Six Sorrow Songs that open the recital. Though these Christina Rossetti settings are often reflective, Llewellyn leaves no doubt in turbulent passages that she has power aplenty to reckon with.
The seven African Romances are generally lighter in tone, though the contemplative poignancy of ‘A Prayer’ is sensitively caught by Llewellyn, and sticks in the memory. Her operatic muscle flexes again at the welling conclusion of ‘Thou art risen, my beloved’, where she crescendos thrillingly on its final syllable.
Schumann, Brahms and Strauss are obvious influences on Coleridge-Taylor’s idiom, but they don’t prevent his own individual voice emerging – in the brightly glimmering ‘Canoe Song’, for example, or the winsome ‘Big Lady Moon’. While not quite as distinctive as, say, Finzi and Butterworth at their best, it thoroughly merits the exposure this intelligently planned recital gives it. The booklet notes are excellent, as are Simon Lepper’s judicious accompaniments.