Track 4 on Side 1 is not only the best track on the LP, but also quite simply one of the best songs ever recorded by anyone. This is “To Althea From Prison”, a setting to music of the classic poem of the same name. In the track listing, it appears thus:
“To Althea From Prison
Music D. Swarbrick
Lyrics from the works of Richard Lovelace while in prison The Gate House, Westminster (1642.)”.
The very concept of the piece is a work of pure genius. This is a very well known poem, or at least the phrase in it “Stone walls do not a prison make” is in common usage, even if most do not know its origin.
“Music D. Swarbrick” – oh my goodness! The tune he created is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard, and fits the poem so incredibly well that it seems to have been with it from the beginning.
This is very much a Dave Swarbrick song, and oddly, I do not think anyone else would have been preferable to sing it. His 1973 voice was again so eminently right and suitable for this one that again, it seems to have been made for the poem contemporaneously.
The track opens with a brilliant, long violin introduction. Anybody who has seen this chap playing the violin will know that instrument and man become one, and the playing here is no exception. In essence, he plays the whole melody, which is slow and stately; and then the music stops, and we hear his solo voice singing the first line of the poem “When love, with unconfined wings,”, after which the music respectfully resumes.
This one really is a masterpiece, one of the true pinnacles of world musical history.