Dame Ethel Smyth
Mass in D
Saturday 18 March 2023 at 7:30pm
  Date:  Saturday 18 March 2023
  Time: 7:30pm
  Venue:  St Matthew’s Church, Kettering Road, Northampton, NN1 4RY
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Over this 2022/23 season the choir are exploring the theme #ExpandingTheCanon, placing established masterworks from the repertoire alongside unjustly neglected works by women composers. In the Autumn term the music is from the classical period (Martines and Mozart) and in the Summer term it is from the baroque period (Handel, Leonarda, and Vivaldi). In this Spring term the music is from the Romantic period, with Bruch’s ever-popular Violin Concerto No. 1 being performed alongside Dame Ethel Smyth’s remarkable Mass in D. This juxtaposition of works is not done at random - both Bruch and Smyth were pupils at the Leipzig Conservatory of Carl Reinecke (who also taught Grieg, Janáček, Stanford, and Sullivan).

Dame Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D is, in the words of the 2022 BBC Proms guide “one of the crowning glories of the British choral tradition”; we agree! The Proms guide goes on to say “Ethel Smyth wasn’t especially religious: the text and images of the Catholic Mass simply thrilled her. ‘What words! What words!' she exclaimed”. This is certainly true, and with well over an hour of music it is certainly a test for any large chorus. She composed the work while a guest of Empress Eugénie at Cape Martin, near Monaco, in the summer of 1891. A private performance was given, with Smyth at the piano, for Queen Victoria and Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, at Balmoral Castle in October of that year, and the première was subsequently given in the Royal Albert Hall in January 1893. It was revived in 1924 for a performance conducted by Adrian Boult, and again in 1934 in a performance conducted by Thomas Beecham, and attended by Queen Mary.

Unusually, the order of movements in the work is in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer format rather than the universal one, and so the Gloria comes right at the very end. Although the score was printed with the movements ordered as in Catholic liturgy, with the Gloria coming second, it included a note stating Smyth's preference for the Gloria to be performed last; Smyth later wrote that her only reason for it was to finish triumphantly. According to musicologist Donald Tovey, the joyful mood sustained in the Gloria is an example of the close attention which Smyth paid to matching the music to the religious meaning of every part of each movement's text.

It is a huge honour to have commissioned this special arrangement by George Morton of the Smyth’s Mass in D, which substantially reduces the orchestral forces required to perform this work, and we are honoured that Wise Music Classical have agreed to publish the arrangement so that it can be accessed by many other groups who would struggle to finance the original large orchestration.

Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 is a former No. 1 in the Classic FM Hall of Fame, and is one of the most popular - and most beautiful - of all violin concertos. The dazzling, virtuosic passages, particularly in the glorious finale, make the violin sing as it soars again and again to ever loftier heights. The second movement is pure romance: beautiful, heart-breaking themes, woven delicately within soulful orchestral accompaniment. And just as the Mass in D is performed in a reduced orchestration, so is the Bruch, thanks to Iain Farrington’s remarkable reduced scoring.

We are delighted to welcome guest conductor Laura Bailie for this performance. Laura was born in Northern Ireland and has a Master’s Degree in choral conducting from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and her undergraduate degree was in Classical Voice at the Leeds Conservatoire. She has conducted a number of choruses, and is Musical Director of Divertimento Voices in Royal Leamington Spa and Daventry Choral Society. As an aside, we are also happy to note that our friends at the Northampton Symphony Orchestra are honouring Women of Note in their Spring concert, which falls just one week after our concert, and includes works by Ruth Gipps, Florence Price, Errollyn Wallen, and Grace Williams; great minds do indeed think alike!


Violin Concerto No. 1 (1866) - Max Bruch
arranged by Iain Farrington

Mass in D (1891)
- Dame Ethel Smyth
in a newly commissioned arrangement by George Morton

Northampton Bach Choir
Scordatura Collective
Tailleferre Ensemble

Soprano : Rebecca Bottone
Mezzo-Soprano : Rhiain Taylor
Tenor : Stephen Mills
Bass : Adam Marsden

Guest Conductor - Laura Bailie