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'The musical ideas are often bold ...'

A disc in the EMI British Composers' series -


Ethel Smyth Mass in D etc. (c) 2000 EMI Records Ltd

This is a disappointing disc. Ethel Smyth thought her Mass was her best work and the thing by which posterity might remember her, if it remembered her at all. In 1991 -- the centenary of its composition -- Virgin Classics issued a pioneering recording of a performance by the Plymouth Music Series. It left quite a lot to be desired -- a rather dry acoustic, imbalance of orchestra and chorus, tentative conducting, and tenors thin and strained -- but it was a great deal better than the nothing which had preceded it. The way had been opened for more and better performances in due course of a work that needs the sort of advocacy that comes perhaps gradually and only with incremental familiarity, for it is not an easy piece either to perform or to love. The musical ideas are often bold but rarely of sufficient interest to sustain a very large-scale work like this [listen -- track 2, 0:00 -- 0:59]. They tend to episodic unfolding rather than thorough-going development. There are disconcerting syntactical ruptures (or so they appear both on this disc and in Smyth's score, though a really sympathetic conductor might well make sense of them one day). The style intends much, but achieves less. It is heavily Brahmsian, but with lashings of Italianate chromatic incense too [listen -- track 5, 0:01 -- 1:06].

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Copyright © 22 April 2001 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK



CD INFORMATION - EMI 7 243 5 67426 2 8


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