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Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
A Colour Symphony (1921-22, rev. 1932) [31:48]
Violin Concerto (1953-55) [41:47]
Lydia Mordkovitch (violin)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 17-18 January 2006, DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10380 [73:35]
Experience Classicsonline

Bliss always said that his concertos were inspired by the personalities of soloists, whether it was Rostropovich (1927-2007) for the late and somewhat anaemic Cello Concerto or Solomon (1902-1988) for the leonine piano concerto. In this case it was Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991) for the Violin Concerto.
The Violin Concerto owes its existence to a BBC commission given to the recently appointed Master of the Queen's Music. He succeeded Bax who had died in October 1953. The premiere was given by the dedicatee, Campoli with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sargent in the RFH on 11 May 1955. Bliss conducted it the next evening for a radio broadcast. That same year in November Campoli and the LPO with Bliss conducting recorded it in mono for Decca. This was issued as Decca LXT 1566 and was later a staple of the Decca Eclipse label alongside the Bliss-conducted Colour Symphony. You can hear this on an all-Campoli disc with the 1949 Bliss Theme and Cadenza and a voluptuous but much cut-about Tchaikovsky concerto on Beulah 3PD10. On 16 April 1956 Bliss conducted the concerto with the USSR Symphony Orchestra in Moscow. Campoli was the soloist. The concerto has made little headway in the concert hall and that first Decca LP much reissued seems to gave stifled further recording projects despite the mono sound. In 1996 Carlton BBC Radio Classics brought out a stereo version in which Campoli is captured with Bliss conducting the BBCSO on 16 December 1968. That ADD version was rapidly deleted when the label collapsed and the concerto had to wait a further decade before this - only its third outing. I keep hoping that John Georgiadis's studio  broadcast with the BBCSO and Handley in the year of Bliss's death will be issued on CD but it seems increasingly unlikely now.
He worked on two other projects in parallel with the concerto. There was work on a special edition of The Beggar's Opera for a Herbert Wilcox film. The other was a Feeney Trust commission for the CBSO - the work that became the John Blow Meditations - which Hugo Rignold recorded so impressively and imaginatively in 1965 with the CBSO and which was released with the Music for Strings on Lyrita Recorded edition LP SRCS 33 (now reissued on SRCD254. The CBSO were to return the work in 1979 with Vernon Handley for EMI but the Rignold version does not suffer in comparison.
For those among us who are interested in the numbers, here are the timings for the Concerto:                   

Campoli (Decca)   
Campoli (BBC)

Mordkovich dwells luxuriantly on the many beauties in this expansive score. She takes the longest at just over 41 minutes with Campoli 1 at just over 37 minutes and Campoli 2 at just short of 38 minutes. The mono analogue recording from 1955 presents Campoli right up close without being as suffocatingly gigantic as a typical RCA Heifetz concerto balance. It’s a pleasure at last to hear this work in its full glory.
Bliss dedicated A Colour Symphony to Adrian Boult yet it was the composer who conducted the premiere at the Three Choirs in 1922. As you can see from the following comparison with the recently reissued Groves recording on EMI, Hickox is a minute or so faster overall:

Hickox (Chandos)
Groves (EMI) 

Hickox is accorded a typically fine and spanking new digital recording from Ralph Couzens but it's a close run thing with the clean golden age analogue recording for Groves and EMI. Overall the Chandos represents a fine listening experience and has many strengths. My allegiance though is in the last  and closest analysis to the Groves. Groves has both expansive gravity and rapturous energy coupled with a slightly better-honed rhythmic edge. Grand stuff though and this is a fine performance and a splendid recording of the Symphony by anyone's reckoning. It's also the only way of accessing a modern recording of the Violin Concerto in sound that can only be described as stunning.
Rob Barnett


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