Portrait of a Lost Icon: songs and piano music by Owen performed by Elin Manahan Thomas & Brian Ellsbury

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COMPOSERS: Morfydd Owen
LABELS: Ty Cerrd
WORKS: Portrait of a Lost Icon: songs and piano music
PERFORMER: Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), Brian Ellsbury (piano)


Morfydd Owen was born in the Welsh valleys in 1891. Like many of her peers she sang and played piano, but it was her precocious talent as a composer – and her beauty – that dazzled audiences in London. Sadly, having met and married within six weeks Freud’s biographer, Ernest Jones, her once-prolific output tapered off, and she died in mysterious circumstances following surgery in 1918, aged just 26.

Inevitably, Owen’s tale is ripe for romantic fantasy as well as regret. But leaving aside the odd tautology of its title, on the basis of this sensitively recorded disc from Ty Cerdd, a recent resurgence of interest in her music proves justified. Pianist and researcher/editor Brian Ellsbury joins forces with Welsh soprano Elin Manahan Thomas to offer a poignant collection of songs and piano pieces spanning Owen’s tantalisingly promising career.

Many of the works have only recently been unearthed, and the E minor Piano Sonata, for example, is patchy juvenilia. However its wild contrasts are honed to quixotic perfection in the songs, which reveal Owen’s expertise in subtly chromatic, sometimes Slavic-tinged vocal miniatures. Best known, but not necessarily most affecting, is the sole Welsh-language example, Gweddi y Pechadur (The Sinner’s Prayer). If Manahan Thomas’s voice is occasionally tremulous, her delivery is passionate, and the combination serves to underscore the paradoxical strength and fragility of Owen herself.


Steph Power