One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,928 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             



AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Mêlée Fantasque (1921) [12.00]
Checkmate - complete ballet (1937) [53.03]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. 1-9 August 2004, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow. DDD
NAXOS 8.557641 [65.03]

A welcome release this, especially as the ballet Checkmate is offered complete with Prologue. Lloyd-Jones has recorded parts of the ballet before for Hyperion (CDA66436), and it is evident he knows this score well.

The disc opens with an early work of Bliss, Mêlée Fantasque (1921). Perhaps it relies too heavily upon the knowledge required of the artist and friend Claude Lovat Fraser's paintings, but it is a short colourful work, using much percussion and brass, and inspired by Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes of the period. It stands as a balletic attempt at an English equivalent of a "Pictures at an Exhibition of One Particular Artist".

The Bliss masterpiece Checkmate (1936-37) is the main fare, and is complete, lasting a little over 53 minutes. The opening Prologue is a powerfully stated piece, with a touch of Elgarian essence, even wistfulness. It acts as a musical introduction to all the players (chess pieces), chess being a game that Bliss loved.

The Dance of the Red Pawns is conveyed with a jaunty frivolity, followed by the Dance of the Four Knights, powerful "rondo burlesque-ish" music, and one which must be a concert hall favourite. All the jousting is halted immediately, as the Black Queen makes her entrance, sinister, omnipotent, and with solo melodic lines played by various woodwind and violin, which recur at later stages in the ballet.

Lloyd-Jones, throughout, conveys the dramatic as well as the balletic side to this wonderful score. Following the relief (by all) of the Black Queen having momentarily disappeared, the Red Knights strike up a Waltonian type mazurka. This is followed by the Red Bishop's procession (laced with touches of Vaughan Williamsí 8th symphony modality complete with bells), before the action turns to a strutting march of brutish power by the Red Castles.

The Attack proceeds with brass powerfully blended, and with the oboes contributing beautifully. The Duel which follows, is probably the most sheerly balletic of the whole work, with reminders from various sections of the orchestra that the Black Queen is around. And indeed she is, because her Dance is deliciously pointed as a sort of teasing tango, eyeing her prey. Finally, to thundering percussion, the Black Queen delivers her Death Blows to the Red King with a stunning and fearful finality.

Checkmate is a wonderful score, and works exceedingly well on its own. It tests all aspects of the orchestra, especially the winds, brass, and timpani. The Scottish orchestra play well, and Lloyd-Jones portrays the various sections with much vividness, and with tempi that convince.

Two caveats prevent me from awarding the topmost marks. Firstly, the sound has a touch of "boominess" to the bass, affecting the percussion, although it must be said, most detail is clear, if perhaps, in the final analysis, the sound is a little too close. The other is where the clarinets make a bit of a pig's ear in the opening bars to the Black Queen's entry, and show some insecurity in the Duel section.

But on the whole, this is a very rewarding release, and is sure to give much pleasure, perhaps even prompting listeners to check out previous recordings by Handley, Bliss and Irving, all of whom, present a truncated version of the full score. The only other recording of the full ballet is on ASV CD WLS 255 where Barry Wordsworth conducts the Royal Ballet Sinfonia - a 2 CD set which is a tribute to Dame Ninette de Valois.

Ray Hall

see also review by Terry Barfoot - October Bargin of the Month


Before this disc went out for review Chris Thomas and David Dyer and myself auditioned it in the listening room. I was surprised by Ray's comments so called up another copy so we could listen again. We found this a spacious and clear recording well up with many recent Naxos releases. Any boominess in the percussion is not that of the recording but in the very nature of the timps used..

Len Mullenger


Comparison review - ASV recording of complete Checkmate



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

Eloquence recordings
All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Recordings of the Month


Cantatas and Organ Works

Complete Songs

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Simone Dinnerstein piano





Chopin Bruce Liu

Ingeneri Volume 2

Mondonville - Titon et L'Aurore

Telemann - French Cantatas 1


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.