Hugo Rignold

Arthur Bliss: Meditations on a Theme by John Blow; A Prayer to the Infant Jesus; Music for Strings

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Of the English modernist composers who came of age after the First World War, Arthur Bliss has been less well served on record than he deserves. His major works -- Morning Heroes, A Colour Symphony, and the four great ballets -- have received few recordings. Even Bliss' warmly lyrical and instantly appealing Music for Strings has had few recordings, and the recording at hand is perhaps the least successful of them. Hugo Rignold and the Birmingham Symphony deliver scrappy playing, doubtful ensemble, and shaky tempos, so it's hard to say much good about the performance. Listeners unfamiliar with the piece should be guided toward either Adrian Boult or Richard Hickox's more polished recordings.

The Meditation on a Theme by John Blow contains some of Bliss' most varied and rhythmically bracing music, and here Rignold's boisterous and rambunctious reading is much more successful, in large part due to the better playing of the Birmingham musicians. The final work here is A Prayer for the Infant Jesus in the only recording yet made at the time of release, by Philip Ledger and the Ambrosian Singers. Scored for women's voices, the work is starkly beautiful and Ledger and the English choir deliver a wonderfully moving performance that could win Bliss new advocates among the English cathedral set. As is standard with Lyrita, the stereo sound here is cool, clear, and honest.

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