> BLISS Decca British Music Collection [TB]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Introduction and Allegro
Cello Concerto
Meditations on a theme by John Blow

Robert Cohen (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
Antiphonal Fanfare
Fanfare for the Lord Mayor of London

Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
Suite: Things to Come

National Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Herrmann
Welcome to the Queen
Theme and Cadenza for violin
Introduction and Allegro

Alfredo Campoli (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Arthur Bliss
Rec 1955 (Theme and Cadenza, Introduction and Allegro - Bliss), 1959 (Welcome to the Queen), 1970, Antiphonal Fanfare, Flourish), 1975 (Things to Come), 1979 (Fanfare), 1993 (Introduction and Allegro - Wordsworth, Cello Concerto, Meditations)
DECCA 470 186-2 [2CDs: 124.21]

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The British Collection is a new series of Decca reissues, containing some single discs and some double sets. This 2CD collection of music by Sir Arthur Bliss contains some enterprising repertoire in good recordings and performances, though the dates stretch across a period of nearly forty years, from 1955 to 1993. And inevitably the difference shows.

Although it is good to have the composer's own performances in acceptable sound, which is good for its time, the 'three bonus tracks' which the second disc contains do offer a duplication of the Introduction and Allegro which is already present on disc one. While this makes for intriguing comparisons, it still begs the question of whether the Decca archives might contain another Bliss piece which could have more usefully extended the repertoire offered here.

Wordsworth's 1993 recordings have good sound and secure well played performances. Robert Cohen is an able soloist in the splendidly lively Cello Concerto, a work which still lacks the recognition it deserves. What a pity it is that this music is so overshadowed by the Elgar Concerto, masterpiece though that work is. The Introduction and Allegro, featured twice in this compilation, is a good example of Bliss's mastery of texture and line, extended across a powerful line of development. Both Wordsworth and the composer himself have plenty to offer, though the latter inevitably has special things to say about the music. On the other hand, the more recent 1993 sound allows for many details of orchestration to be heard to advantage.

The finest music to be found here is surely the Meditations on a theme of John Blow, which was composed in the mid-1950s as a set of variations on the Psalm 'The Lord in My Shepherd, and Blow's noble theme from the 17th century, which is only revealed in its true glory at the close. Wordsworth presents the music with due care and attention to detail, but his performance is less inspiring than Handley's on EMI (alas now deleted). Nevertheless, for those who want to explore the music of this neglected British master, this piece is one of the most rewarding of all his creations - one of the great works of 20th century British music.

The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble in its heyday was without peer, as these performances confirm. None of the pieces they play would rank as a blazing masterpiece, but all are recorded to advantage in sound which brings out the music's many felicities.

The booklet and general documentation do not come up to Decca's usually high standards, I'm afraid. The booklet notes are on the short side, even though the final two pages (or three if you include the back cover) contain nothing of any value. So, all in all, two cheers rather than three.

Terry Barfoot

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