The music of Sir Arthur Bliss has been growing more popular, especially in Britain, since it became acceptable not to regard British music of the 20th century as a path up a mountainside leading to Benjamin Britten at the pinnacle. This Chandos release, with Sir Andrew Davis conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, is a good place to start to try out some of Bliss' music. All of the music comes from the later part of his career, after World War II, and the program includes a work that most, including the composer himself, count as one of his strongest: the Meditations on a Theme of John Blow, F. 118. The work, sonically sumptuous, is recorded here for the first time in the SACD format, and audiophiles may find they want the album for that reason alone. Even for ordinary mortals, this is a beautiful performance of a work that is at once inventively structured (Bliss retains the section title of Blow's vocal work but assembles the full theme only in his finale) and quite passionate by British standards. The other two works on the album are vocal and are well worth hearing. In the first track, "Bring me the laurel leaves," from The Enchantress, F. 157, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly is in fine form. The work is an adaptation of the Second Idyll of Theocritus, even in the 1950s, not a tale in common circulation, but its representation of a woman resorting to sorcery to get her man back is compactly and powerfully represented. The finale Mary of Magdala, F. 31, is a sacred cantata on the biblical episode wherein the title character becomes the first to behold the risen Christ; the work testifies to Bliss' fine and subtle dramatic sense. The performances are crisp and have a feeling of confident familiarity. A strongly recommended album for those with a general interest in English music.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The Enchantress - Scena for Contralto and Orchestra|
|Meditations on a Theme by John Blow|
|Mary of Magdala - Cantata for Contralto and Bass Soli, Chorus, and Orchestra|