Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
A Colour Symphony ((1921-22, rev. 1932) [32:29]
Metamorphic Variations (1972) [35:11]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 5-6 January 1991. DDD
full track-list below
NIMBUS NI 5294 [70.32]
It has been twenty years since the sessions for this disc. When first issued in Bliss’s centenary year the range of Bliss available was very narrow. Things are different now – a welcome transformation though we still await the great work that is The Beatitudes.
How does this CD at mid-full price hold up against other discs? Firstly let it be noted that there are no other similarly coupled discs so if you are intent on the famous Colour Symphony and his last major orchestral work then you will need this CD. As for the orchestra they are every bit the fine instrument that later resulted in them being used extensively by Nimbus and increasingly by Chandos. Let’s leave the composer’s own historic mono recording (Dutton Laboratories CDLXT2501, 1995 – originally Decca LP LXT 5170, 1955) of the Symphony in its own specialist compound. While Hickox is splendidly recorded – and incidentally with the same orchestra - (Chandos CHAN 10380, 2006). David Lloyd-Jones with the English Northern Philharmonia (Naxos 8.553460, 1996) is also very fine the real protagonists are Vernon Handley and the Ulster Orchestra (Chandos Classics CHAN 10221, 1987) and Sir Charles Groves and the Royal Philharmonic in analogue on EMI Classics British Composers 50999 586589. Groves’ laureate recording is, in the final and most demanding analysis, preferable in terms of expansive gravity, rapturous energy and honed rhythmic definition. Barry Wordsworth is no Bliss one-off. He also in 1994 recorded the Blow Meditations, Cello Concerto (Robert Cohen) and the Introduction and Allegro for Argo now reissued by Decca. His engaging way with the more feral moments in the first movement of the Symphony, in the sweetly serenading ‘Blue’ and the subtly built and lissom euphoric mood of the ‘Green’ finale. are strengths As for the large-scale Metamorphic Variations this has been well recorded by David Lloyd-Jones on Naxos. We should also remember the pioneering broadcast preserved on the now deleted CD Carlton BBC Radio Classics 15656 9168-2 issued in 1996. The intricate and intriguing Variations are haunting but represent a slow-burn even among Bliss fanatics. Bliss’s orchestral technique had been stropped to a finely honed edge and there is little of the congestion occasionally experienced in the writing of the symphony. That said there is a tendency to congealed density in the rowdily triumphant and at times Mahlerian Affirmation - finale. The Interjections movement muses on his own Music for Strings and on Britten’s Grimes interludes. Those castanets in Polonaise still come as a surprise. This was the work’s first commercial recording. It’s well worth exploring but do not expect to be instantly seduced – it abjures glamour in favour of the philosophically reflective and that is exactly how it ends.
The notes and the artwork are by the late George Dannatt who together with his wife was the dedicatee of the Variations.
Rob Barnett
A very good Bliss disc though the Symphony is somewhat out-pointed by Handley and Groves.

A Colour Symphony
I Purple 6.17
II Red 7.26
III Blue 10.21
IV Green 8.25

Metamorphic Variations
I Elements 3.50
II Ballet 1.43
III Assertion 2.30
IV Speculation 1.51
V Interjections 3.29
VI Scherzo I 2.33
VII Contemplation 2.42
VIII Polonaise 3.26
IX Funeral Processions 3.57
X Cool Interlude 2.48
XI Scherzo II 1.39
XII Duet (John Senter - cello) 2.04
XIII Dedication 0.54
XIV Affirmation 4.14