Sakari Oramo / BBC Symphony Orchestra

Dame Ethel Smyth: Mass in D; Overture to 'The Wreckers'

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Dame Ethel Smyth's Mass in D major was backed by, among others, Queen Victoria, and had its premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in 1893. The composer wrote that she was "bent on two things only: to make a pleasant noise and to manage that every word should go straight home to listeners." This attitude did not endear Smyth to either ecclesiastical or critical authorities (George Bernard Shaw found in it "an underlying profanity"), and the work was subsequently rarely performed. It has had a few recordings, but this full-scale, richly detailed one by Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony may be choice. Smyth heard Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123, as a student in Germany, and was impressed by the work. In several respects, her mass reveals itself as the child of Beethoven's with its hardly varying D major and D minor, its rather nonliturgical mood, and its free approach to the text. However, Smyth goes further, moving the Gloria to the final position. Sample this remarkable movement, which brings the work to a joyous conclusion and makes the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, also quite Beethovenian, into a kind of slow movement (the work was not printed in this form, but a note from the composer clearly indicates her intentions). The Mass in D would be an ideal work for amateur choirs: it's not monumental like Beethoven's, and the solo parts are within reach of amateurs. Oramo's group respects the work's scope, and in general, this is a valuable addition to the English choral discography.

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