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Miriam HYDE (1913-2005)
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano), Adrian Farmer (piano)
rec. Nimbus Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, UK, 2018
LYRITA SRCD378 [63:02]

My previous acquaintance with the music of the Australian composer Miriam Hyde came from a 1970s recording of her two piano concertos, with the composer herself as soloist, which has surfaced on various labels over the years. Although some of her chamber and piano music has found its way onto disc more recently, this is, I believe, the first time that any of her vocal works have appeared on record although Lyrita (with commendable but perhaps unnecessary caution) refrain for making any claim that these songs are receiving their première recordings.

The disc very sensibly lays out the songs in chronological order (with a couple of exceptions near the end), covering the period 1933 to 1982. Thus the first, Dream land, was written when the composer was barely out of her teens, while the final Yorkshire Picture comes from her late sixties. Not that the songs here show much evidence of development from the early years onwards – although that may be the consequence of the fact that the texts she sets in this collection, including a whole batch of her own poems, are all very much of the same kind, a contemplation of nature reflecting human emotions. It comes as something of a shock, too, to find the composer in the 1950s still submitting songs for newspaper competitions. As it is, the general impression is of a lyrical series of effusions which are careful not to cause any potential offence to polite society, and indeed seem intended to be palatable to amateur singers of a good standard. The most effective are either those which show a withdrawn sense of stillness, such as the 1943 Lullaby to a poem by Christina Rosetti or the 1970 Late June (an exalted lyric by Valerie Barton); or the more reflective but troubled meditations by W Allder Morrison Sea Fantasy and Nightfall by the river. Myriam Hyde’s own poetry seems very much of the same kind; a couplet from the final Yorkshire Picture serves to illustrate her style:
White is the cottage, white is the gate,
Purple the heather; the sun’s setting late.

One would need a more adventurous sense of harmony to lift this verse above its natural level, and unfortunately it does not seem that this is part of Hyde’s armoury. The booklet note refers to “fresh nuances, often with a surprising twist” but these do not seem to be a prominent part of the music on offer here.

The piano accompaniments are, as one would expect from a composer best known for her piano works, effective and atmospheric and well played by Adrian Farmer. Charlotte de Rothschild is to be commended for the sense of exploration which she brings to her recordings of neglected repertory, but unfortunately the songs on this disc require a greater variety of delivery to realise their strengths and this all too often eludes her. One example may suffice: the Sea Fantasy begins with the line “The sea, that once was faithful to the moon” which changes at the end to “the sea, that long was faithful to the moon.” When she comes to that point, she sings the original line again – which seems to rather miss the subtle change of emphasis.

Those who love English song will of course have to investigate this disc, a whole new area of the repertory for them to discover. One just wishes that Myriam Hyde’s songs had a wider emotional range, although the two Morrison settings might well repay investigation by other adventurous singers. The booklet contains the full texts (in English only) and an informative biographical note by Rita Crews, who had interviewed the composer in 1985.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Dream land (1933)
My sorrow stirs (1935)
The apple tree (1942)
Music (1942)
Rhyme after rain (1943)
Lullaby (1943)
The cedar tree (1944)
Three mediaeval Latin lyrics (1944)
In the rose garden (1946)
The constant pool (1946)
Leaves in the wind (1947)
Thoughts at dusk (1950)
Winter willow music (1954)
Sea Fantasy (1954)
Nightfall by the river (1955)
Twilight beach (1956)
A song of autumn (1956)
When our wattle-tree blooms (1956)
The river and the hill (1956)
Camellia (1970)
Festival flowers (1968)
Late June (1970)
September Camphor-Laurels (1945)
Yorkshire Picture (1982)

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