Elsie Suddaby (1893-1980) - Volume 1
Elsie Suddaby (1893-1980) was a close contemporary of Isobel Baillie and Dora Labbette. All three sopranos were stalwarts of the oratorio and recital platforms, yet Suddaby has been somewhat neglected by comparison with the other two, particularly Baillie. On the strength of this very welcome reissue I find that strange indeed, for in many ways she evinces the strongest personality of the three, and has a distinctive timbre very much her own. That can be heard in the first item, Michael Arne’s The lass with the delicate air, a piece she virtually appropriated as her signature tune. She sings it with such variety of tone and, yes, such delicacy of accent, that one capitulates at once to so graceful an artist. That is a 1929 disc, but even earlier, in a 1924 acoustic version of Dido’s Lament, the singular quality of being able, simply and naturally, to move the listener is there: adding appoggiaturas to the recitative and discreetly employing portamento in the Lament itself she goes to the heart of the matter. The same qualities inform her better-known account of “As when the dove” from Handel’s Acis and Galatea.
There is also the joyfully affirmative side of her art, shown in a fresh, forward account of “Rejoice greatly” from Messiah and “Endless pleasure”, Semele wallowing in her conquest of Jupiter. Better still is a version of “Let the bright Seraphim” (Samson) that rings the rafters with its zealous delivery. Runs in all these Handel pieces are keenly accomplished though not quite with Baillie’s assurance. Then for sheer legato it would be hard to improve on Mendelssohn’s On wings of song, a captivating performance notable again for the art that conceals art.
These HMV recordings catch Suddaby in her prime, when she was in her thirties, yet on a Decca ten-inch of 1941 of Thomas Arne’s Where the bee sucks and Morley’s It was a lover and his lass, there is no diminution of the singer’s powers, and even the Warlock songs and Mozart’s Agnus Dei (recorded by EMI in 1951-2 but never issued), when Suddaby was in her late fifties, find the tone almost as fresh as ever and wholly free of wobble. I heard her several times in Bach Choir performances in the late 1940s and can attest that she had preserved her clear, unforced tone. In 1960 she quietly retired – and was until now forgotten by all but the most diligent of collectors.
Some of the songs included here are of limited interest musically speaking, although the slightest of them is illumined by Suddaby’s easy charm. The CD is a generous offering (another is promised), the transfers are mostly well done and the booklet is obviously a labour of love. It includes memoirs from several people who knew the singer, among them Richard Baker, who visited Suddaby in her nursing home (where she was confined by a debilitating illness) after she had written to him when he played The lass with a delicate air on BBC Radio 4’s These you have loved.'