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
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.
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 Williams’ 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
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.
see also review
by Terry Barfoot - October Bargin
of the Month
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..
Comparison review -
ASV recording of complete Checkmate