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
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.