Rachel Smith – Summer Was in August
Rachel Smith, a London based professional flute player with many years experience as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, is very much a product of the British music scene, having studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, the University of London, and Salford University where she earned a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Performance. Subsequently active as a freelance artist in symphony, chamber and opera orchestra, festival and West End theatre settings, her career has taken her throughout Europe as well as to Japan, Zimbabwe and the USA.
While Rachel enjoys a wide repertoire she has been particularly interested in performing and promoting works by composers from her native land. As part of her British Composers Series, her first CD, Summer Was In August, confirms the fact that British composers are a bit of an underrated breed, not to mention the fact that they have made some wonderful contributions to the flute repertoire, some of which have been inspired by Smith’s efforts on their behalf, as well as by the sheer quality of her performances.
There are some serious gaps in the textbooks on music history, which are dominated by the French and Viennese masters, rightly so, perhaps, but at the expense of some wonderful music from other parts of the world. I have attended concerts in the US featuring Brazilian and other South American composers but, not surprisingly, it seems to be left to British artists to showcase the work of British composers.
With this collection, Rachel Smith has certainly made a contribution to this effort. There are contributions from Malcolm Arnold, Hamilton Harty, Gordon Jacob (2), Paul Lewis (4), Paul Carr (2) and Paul Gregory, a cross-section of British music that demonstrates both its variety of form and texture while retaining its most significant and appealing characteristics: an emphasis on melody, largely free from what Paul Henry Lang in the US referred to as the “varicose veins of chromaticism,” and what Smith calls a “listener-friendly” sheen that avoids any sense of pandering to a lowest common denominator. The programming is carefully planned to offset the dominant texture of the flute, with pieces for solo flute, duets with piano, guitar or harp, a flute, piano and cello trio, and a palette-cleansing burst of piccolo on Jacob’s The Pied Piper.
All of this is beautifully performed by Dr. Smith, with an impeccable technique and what has been described as a “clear pure tone.” There can be no better showcase of compositions for flute in Great Britain over the 20th and early 21st centuries. It is highly recommended, especially to flutists outside the UK who might like to add to their repertoire from a somewhat overlooked source.
Review by Peter Westbrook
[Editor’s note: Rachel Smith is due to join the Flute Journal Editorial Board]
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