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Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Mêlée fantasquea (1921, rev. 1937 and 1965) [13:06]; Routb (1920) [7:24]; Adam Zero Suiteb - No. 2, Dance of Spring; No. 4, Bridal Chamber; No. 5, Dance of Summer (1946) [8:54]; bHymn to Apollo (1928, rev. 1964) [10:23]; Serenadec(1929) [25:52]; The World is charged with the grandeur of Godd (1969) [13:31]
bRae Woodland (soprano); cJohn Shirley-Quirk (baritone); dAmbrosian Singers; dLSO Wind and Brass Ensemble; abcLondon Symphony Orchestra/abSir Arthur Bliss, cBrian Priestman, dPhilip Ledger.
rec. 1971. ADD

Bliss had been part of Richard Itter's Lyrita catalogue from the earliest stereo days. One of the finest unsung LPs was SRCS33 which featured magnificent versions of the Meditations on a Theme by John Blow and Music for Strings with the CBSO conducted by Hugo Rignold.

This largely composer-conducted anthology is collected from various corners of the Lyrita analogue catalogue. Mêlée Fantasque came from SRCS 50 where it shared space with works by Walton, Britten/Berkeley and Holst. SRCS 55 - an LP produced as a birthday present for the composer from the Performing Right Society on the occasion of his eightieth birthday and presented to him at a Prom on 2 August 1971 - included the Serenade, Rout, Hymn to Apollo, A Prayer to the Infant Jesus and The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God. The short suite from what Bliss considered his finest ballet is from SRCS 47.

The Mêlée Fantasque is a swashbuckling boys' own adventure in music recalling in spirit Bax's Overture to Adventure and Northern Ballad No. 1 but with a mite more derring-do and gravity. The vocalising soprano and orchestra Rout is very romantic, volatile and distinctively Blissy in the contour of its romantic melody but is also suffused with the gaudy spirit of the Diaghilev ballets including de Falla and Stravinsky's Petrushka (listen at 5.30 for an echo of the Easter Fair). It is one of a trio of works from the 1920s - the others being the Rhapsody and the Madam Noy. You can hear all three in their garb with ten instrument chamber ensemble on Hyperion CDA 66137 (Conversations; Rhapsody; Rout; Oboe Quintet; Madame Noy; The Women of Yueh). In the present full orchestral version it was heard as an interlude in one of Diaghilev's Ballet Russes evenings in London in the 1920s. Three movements from the ROH ballet Adam Zero is short commons and was all we had to get by on until the Handley/RLPO LP was issued on EMI Classics ASD 3687 in the mid-1970s. You can now hear all but a few of the movements on an indispensable double CD set EMI Classics British Composers 7243 5 86589 2 7 and that has to be the preferred way of getting to grips with this score. However to have the composer directing three movements in such radiantly vigorous readings is invaluable. Listen out for the Britten-Grimes echoes in the scudding strings at the start of Dance of Summer (tr. 5). The Hymn to Apollo is also from the 1920s and was premiered by Pierre Monteux with the Concertgebouw but we hear the version Bliss revised in 1964. It is a typically noble and Olympian work - stridingly serene in the manner of Morning Heroes at 7:00. The Serenade is the single largest work here with two instrumental movements alternating with two song settings - the first of the words Fair is My Love by Edmund Spenser and the second Tune on my Pipe by Sir J Wotton. It is from the same year as Morning Heroes but stands in a different world - lighter yet with substance - a work of delight and probably reflective of the happy newly married life of Arthur and Trudy. The World is charged with the grandeur of God of course sets the famous words by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is an effective rhetorical and celebratory work for brass ensemble and choir. The music is in three movements of the type at which Bliss was a practised hand. The words were chosen by Peter Pears, the dedicatee. It was one of those works slated for the Aldeburgh Festival but which because of the disastrous fire in June 1969 had to be premiered at Blythburgh Church.

The notes are by the much lamented Christopher Palmer.

This is a desirable and remarkably generous collection which must not be overlooked by any serious Bliss enthusiast. It includes some unusual works not accessible elsewhere.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Colin Clarke


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