Here is a disc first
and foremost for Bliss completists.
It shows Bliss as both the pastmaster
of the occasional and the ceremonial
and as a fierily inspired craftsman.
He was as reliable a deliverer of commissions
as Britten; just as individual as Britten,
less of an original but with more yielding
humanity than Britten could ever muster.
The Prelude written
for the 900th anniversary of Westminster
Abbey has the requisite grandeur and
swagger. Welcome the Queen is
a march that hits the spot without matching
Crown Imperial - perhaps up there
with Ireland's Epic March. A
Song of Welcome is new to most people
and apart from the odd wince-making
moment (the text is by C. Day Lewis
and is not printed in the booklet) is
eager and sensitive; a work with the
occasional force of Finzi's Ode to
St Cecilia. This recording also
has Joan Sutherland in her first ever
recording and sounding lovely well before
La Sutherland's style which became
exhilarated with the music while at
the same time relegating the words to
also-ran status. This Miracle in
the Gorbals is a fine document of
the composer's reading ten years after
the premiere. Allowances have to be
made for the slightly vinegary sound.
Then comes an exhilarating Music
for Strings - a masterwork by any
estimation - which finds the 63 year
old composer in great form but again
the sound has an acidic edge.
The Miracle suite
comprises: Overture; Street;
Girl Suicide; Discovery of
Suicide's Body; Suicide's body
is Brought in; The Stranger;
Dance of Deliverance; Intermezzo;
Killing of the Stranger. In its
vicious squalor it surely looks to Bartók's
Miraculous Mandarin though the
musical language is very different.
Still it must have had shock value for
staid British audiences when premiered
in 1944. At least the setting was Scottish
- and Glasgow rather than couth Edinburgh
about which Bliss wrote a swaggeringly
successful overture. What did one expect
of a composer with American connections!
As for the music it is best heard in
a splendid transfer of the 1970s analogue
original from the golden days of Berglund
and the Bournemouth Symphony on EMI Classics
7243 5 86589 2 7 - an unmissable two
disc collection - essential Bliss in
the way that this good but lesser anthology
does not claim to be.
This disc was issued
in association with the Bliss Trust.
What we urgently need now is the reissue
of the Groves' Morning Heroes (inexplicably
absent for years) and the first ever
recording of his major choral-orchestral
piece The Beatitudes. This is
a masterly and inspired piece - a fine
work from the Coventry Cathedral festivities
slain by Britten's War Requiem just
as surely as Eric Fogg's The Seasons
was sunk at the Leeds Festival by
Walton's Belshazzar's Feast.