> Sir Arthur Bliss [TB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Morning Heroes
Investiture Antiphonal Fanfare
Prayer of St Francis of Assisi
Brian Blessed (orator)
East London Chorus, Harlow Chorus, Hertfordshire Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Kibblewhite
Rec 17-17 Nov 1991 & 26 Jan 1992, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London
CALA CACD 1010 [64.40]

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This project originated in the Bliss centenary celebrations back in 1991, although the recording was only completed and the disc issued the following year. This remains an important performance of a major work - Morning Heroes - which perhaps ranks as the most central achievement in the composer's catalogue.

Above all the recording benefits from the excellent playing of the London Philharmonic, which has been admirably captured by the Cala engineers. Kibblewhite directs a deeply felt and dramatic performance of Morning Heroes, which Bliss described as 'a tribute to my brother and all my comrades-in-arms who fell in the Great War'. This symphony for orator, chorus and orchestra is an hour in duration and sustains its ambitious time-scale by virtue of its vivid commitment and imaginative inspiration, drawing upon various poets, including Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen, Robert Nicholls and The Iliad.

While most of the texts are delivered in sung form by the chorus, some are narrated in the context of atmospheric instrumentation. Brian Blessed captures the spirit of the work, but his delivery might have been more measured, in the manner used so successfully by John Westbrook in the EMI recording conducted by Sir Charles Groves.

The choral singing brings a special intensity to this performance, and it is no surprise to learn that Michael Kibblewhite was the founder and director of all three (a bust schedule no doubt). The ensemble, while complex, is always strongly disciplined, and the recorded perspective generally succeeds in allowing details to be heard, sonorities to be experienced. The fast music, such as the setting of Owen's The Heroes, particularly gains from this approach, and has real intensity.

There are two interesting bonus items preceding the major work on the programme. The LPO give a resounding rendition of the Investiture Antiphonal Fanfare, which for all its brevity is an imposing piece. For contrast the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, of which this was the first ever recording, uses unaccompanied female voices only. While its material is hardly memorable, it is imaginatively layered in sound and creates a beautiful atmosphere.

The booklet is packed with information, including an extended essay by Giles Easterbrook, while full texts are also provided. A distinguished disc, which does credit to all concerned.

Terry Barfoot



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