The Beatitudes of Sir Arthur Bliss met an ignominious fate: scheduled for performance at the reopening of Coventry Cathedral in 1962, it was shoved aside when rehearsals for Britten's War Requiem spiraled out of control, relegated to a small local theater that could not hold the forces required, and performed with, of all things, a Hammond organ. Bliss was gracious about it but definitely received a raw deal: the work did not address the occasion in the immediate terms that Britten's did, but it's quite original, adapting the language of Elgar in novel ways. The nine biblical Beatitudes are actually almost interludes between poems by Henry Vaughan, George Herbert, Jeremy Taylor, and Dylan Thomas, with an adaptation of biblical text by the compiler, Christopher Hassall, in the "Voices of the Mob" section (sample track 11, where the Ninth Beatitude leads into this). That blood-and-guts music could have come out of one of Bliss' film scores, yet other poem settings are harmonically spiky and orchestrally dense. The music received several recordings at the time and several more along the way, including one with Heather Harper on the angelic soprano part in the 1960s. This one with Sir Andrew Davis leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, and made at Watford Colosseum, captures the hard-edged sound Bliss intended in a work that offered no solutions to the granddaughter to whom the composer dedicated it. A certain sympathy for the British choral style is necessary here, but the album is recommended to anyone who possesses such sympathy.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The Beatitudes, F 28. A Cantata for Soprano and Tenor Soloists, SATB Chorus, Orchestra, and Organ|