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Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1875)
Bliss Conducts Bliss
Checkmate Suite* [21:09]
Miracle in the Gorbals Suite** [22:56]
Things to Come Suite [15:08]
Theme and Cadenza for violin and orchestra*** [6:20]
March: Welcome the Queen [6:32]
Alfredo Campoli (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia of London*, Philharmonia Orchestra** London Philharmonic Orchestra*** /Sir Arthur Bliss
rec. 1960*, 1954**, 1955***, 1959
HERITAGE HTGCD220 [72.08]

This is the second CD of music by Sir Arthur Bliss conducted by the composer to appear on the Heritage label (see review of the other release). Checkmate was originally recorded in stereo by World Record Club (T52) and was reissued by EMI Classics on CD some years ago. The Decca recordings of Things to Come and Welcome the Queen from 1959 are also in stereo. The performances that complete the CD are of an earlier vintage from 1954 and 1955 but the mono sound as presented here is more than respectable.
 
Checkmate is a thrilling score that has been recorded on numerous occasions but no other version quite matches the electricity captured here by Bliss and his orchestra. Despite one or two passing moments of insecure intonation and ensemble there is something very special about this. The Sinfonia of London was a regular house band of WRC in the 1950s and 1960s and this is one of their most brilliant recordings. The Dance of the Red Pawns opens the suite with remarkable vitality and immediately demands the listener’s attention. The Entry of the Black Queen and Ceremony of the Red Bishops are prime examples of Bliss at his melancholic, atmospheric best. This is, dark, atmospheric music presented with elastic phrasing and nobility. Finale: Checkmate never fails to bring the house down. Norman Del Mar’s Proms performance, once available on a BBC Music Magazine CD, really hits the mark here but so does this studio recording. OK, the timpani would have benefited from the use of harder sticks but that’s a minor quibble. The playing is inspired and the recording is close, bright and involving.
 
Miracle in the Gorbals falls just short of Checkmate in terms of memorable material but there are many thrilling, exciting moments to be heard. The Overture has an expectant, doom-laden quality with its typical Bliss hallmarks - high, soaring violins and the dramatic use of timps. This dark atmosphere returns with a vengeance at the very end of the suite. Throughout the score there are many highlights including a bustling, hard-driven movement called The Street and a wistful, melodic Intermezzo. The Philharmonia Orchestra plays the suite with considerable panache and the recording has been well transferred from LP. The recording quality is typical mid-1950s Columbia mono. Only occasionally does the CD transfer give away its vinyl source.
 
The Decca LSO sessions need no introduction. These are truly classic recordings. The March from Things to Come is the composer’s single most memorable idea and the LSO plays it magnificently, supported by fabulous vintage Decca stereo sound. Welcome the Queen is equally well recorded - except for a clumsy edit at 4:00 - but the music itself, although joyous and melodic in nature, is the kind of thing best left to Walton. Theme and Cadenza is a lovely reminder of the great violinist Alfredo Campoli. This was originally coupled with his magnificent recording of the Bliss concerto - what about reissuing this, Heritage? The recording belies its age and captures a great partnership between composer and soloist. This is a moving climax to another fine Heritage release.

John Whitmore 


Experience Classicsonline