Terence Gibbs

The Griller Quartet Play Arthur Bliss

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As a composer, Arthur Bliss is a very difficult man to peg stylistically owing to his frequent changes in aesthetic ideals and the fact that the medium for which he was writing had a great influence on his compositional style. His two string quartets, however, definitely lean toward neo-Romanticism with occasional hints of the modern sentiments heard in some of his other compositions. His first string quartet, written in 1940, was given its first complete performance in Berkley in 1941. It was the Griller Quartet, however, that obtained the recording rights in 1943 under Bliss's guidance. The Griller Quartet was one of the preeminent chamber ensembles of the time; its performance of his first quartet was obviously more than satisfactory to Bliss, for he wrote his second quartet specifically for the ensemble in 1950. These recordings of the two quartets, made in 1943 and 1950, respectively, are heard here transferred to CD on the Dutton label. The sound restoration is generally quite good, with the 1943 recording of the first quartet possessing a surprisingly warmer sound than the second quartet. Bliss was said to have been a stickler for tempos above any other technical concern. This, coupled with the extreme technical difficulty of the works, likely accounts to the sometimes hair-raising intonation problems from the usually much more solid Griller Quartet. Still, the scarcity of recordings of any works by Arthur Bliss makes this recording a welcome addition, particularly for fans of historical recordings.

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