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Arthur BLISS (1891 -1975)
Chamber music Volume 2

Piano Quartet (1915)
Sonata for Viola and Piano (1933)
Oboe Quintet (1941) *
Maggini Quartet
Nicholas Daniel, oboe *
Peter Donohoe, piano
Julian Rolton, piano
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, 18th - 20th December 2001.
NAXOS 8.555931 [62.07]

Arthur Bliss has been well served by Naxos in recent years, from the superb state of the art discs of his orchestral works, especially Adam Zero and A Colour Symphony, conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, through the recent historical reissue of the Piano Concerto, to the chamber music, this disc being the second in the latter series. It couples an early work, the three movement Piano Quartet, which is as steeped in the "English pastoral tradition" of its day as the lovely A major String Quartet on Volume 1. Peter Donohoe's piano does tend to add an extra dimension and, as this listener laps up music of this ilk anyway, I cannot recommend it highly enough even though the greatest music on the disc is elsewhere.

The Viola Sonata was written for the great Lionel Tertis and is a much more serious, bigger-boned affair. It represents a formidable challenge to the performers but here Maggini member Martin Outram and his accompanist Julian Rolton do it full justice. Although the pastoral element has all but disappeared, Bliss is always a composer concerned with the lyrical and expressive; however, for meditative and idyllic now read turbulent and emotive. Great music but also more demanding on the listener than the work immediately preceding it here. The tempestuous third movement is a Furiant, an appellation rarely seen this side of Prague, which certainly lives up to its billing, with an impassioned Coda bringing the twenty five minute opus to a close.

The Oboe Quintet is the best known and probably most recorded piece here. As well as being expertly written, not surprisingly for Eugene Goossens, it has the unique distinction of including a theme from an Irish dance tune (Connelly's Jig) and gaining the favour of Alban Berg when the latter heard it in Vienna, following its first performance at the 1927 Venice Festival. The first movement begins with a lyrical Assai sostenuto before developing into a more energetic agitato then dying away again. The second movement is more pastoral than anything in the sonata, yet still more ambivalent than the early chamber works. A lament-like section builds to a climax then pizzicato strings herald a faster, more rhythmic phase. The aforementioned jig appears in the driving final Vivace movement but is much more fleeting than the similar folk music theme in the equivalent movement of Bax's Quintet, written five years earlier. Nicholas Daniel and the Magginis play the work faster than my comparative version by the Audubon Quartet and Pamela Pecha with the result being a reading even more urgent and, for its time, modern sounding. This disc provides yet more evidence, if any were needed, that the Maggini Quartet is not only an incredibly talented group but also that its members are thoroughly attuned to British chamber music. A must buy for British music enthusiasts who must also be eagerly awaiting Peter Donohoe's take on the Bliss Piano Concerto.

Neil Horner

see also review by Kevin Sutton [Recording of the month]


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