Bryan Fairfax

Bliss: The Olympians

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With works like A Colour Symphony and Morning Heroes to his credit, Arthur Bliss was the hottest young composer in England in the 1920s. Unfortunately, he failed to keep pace with the hot young composers of the 1930s and by the end of the war, he was no longer the force he had once been. His comic opera The Olympians was written in 1949 and received its premiere at Covent Garden that same year, but got a mixed response and was not revived until 1972. That performance is contained on this two-disc Opera d'Oro set that constitutes the opera's first recording. In this dedicated but not altogether successful performance, the work itself proves light in tone, witty in content, and lyrical in expression, but not especially memorable. Conductor Bryan Fairfax knows how and when to keep things moving -- the ensemble climaxes at the end of the first two acts -- and when to pull things back -- the love duet at the start of Act II -- but his singers are of variable quality. The two leads, Anne Pashley as Madeleine and William McAlpine as Hector, are more than adequate as provincial lovers, but the rest of the cast, particularly the three who take the parts of the Greek gods who give the work its title, range from the acceptable (Rae Woodland as Diana), to the intolerable (Edmund Bohan as Bacchus). Though it may not challenge Britten's operas in popularity any time soon, Bliss' The Olympians is worth hearing by the composer's fans. Opera d'Oro's live sound is dim and distant, but surprisingly present.

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