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Sir Arthur BLISS (1891–1975)
Welcome the Queen, F.95 (1954) [6:31]
Things to Come, F.131 (1935) [15:04]
A Colour Symphony, F.106 (1921 rev 1932) [31:11]
Introduction and Allegro, F.117 (1926 rev 1937) [11.22]
Baraza (from ‘Men of Two Worlds’, F.121) [7:15]
Violin Concerto, F.111 (1955) [38:38]
Theme and Cadenza for Violin and Orchestra, F.120 [6:15]
String Quartet No. 2 in F minor, F.26 (1950) [30:05]
Eileen Joyce (piano)
Alfredo Campoli (violin)
Griller Quartet
National Symphony Orchestra/Muir Mathieson
London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Arthur Bliss
rec. 1946-57
ELOQUENCE 484 0215 [71:58 + 75:14]

Though the Decca monos have have all been reissued before not all have appeared on Decca CDs. This, for example, is the first Decca release of the original mono version of the Violin Concerto, the String Quartet No.2 and the suite from Things to Come. If you have the Decca Sound, the Mono Years, 53 CD’s worth of over a decade’s worth of valuable mono recordings you’ll have A Colour Symphony, the Introduction and Allegro and the Violin Concerto in the form that most will have encountered it (review). The Decca Music Collection (470 186-2) offers Welcome to the Queen, the Introduction and Allegro, the Theme and Cadenza whilst a recent Heritage reissue has mined Things to Come, Welcome to the Queen, A Colour Symphony, Introduction and Allegro and the Theme and Cadenza. Meanwhile Dutton has disinterred A Colour Symphony and the Introduction and Allegro and, separately, both the String Quartets, of which this new twofer presents only the Second. The Violin Concerto and Theme and Cadenza can also be found in volume 5 of Eloquence’s Campoli volumes (review) so there is quite some sifting to be done to see if this new release fills gaps, fits bills and offers some novelty. There’s a caveat regarding the Violin Concerto, of which more below.

Welcome to the Queen is not as popular as it should be. It sits in the ceremonial Elgarian lineage with great aplomb and shows that he can almost rival Walton in this kind of thing. Both it and the Things to Come suite are the only stereo items in the set. It’s sometimes forgotten that amidst the frantic panels in the film music one finds moments of frolic too and that the Pestilence section is better remembered than the nobilmente of Reconstruction. The Introduction and Allegro’s taut construction is excellently delineated by the composer-conductor but for the last piece he cedes to film music maestro Muir Mathieson for a Bliss oddity, Baraza, from Men of Two Worlds, a pocket concertante piano piece with an ad lib chorus. Eileen Joyce is the redoubtable soloist though she’s not tested too much.

The recording of the Violin Concerto heard here is the full one – which needs a brief explanation. The recording commonly heard, as it is on Beulah and the previous Campoli edition reissues for example, is of the 1955 mono LP. However, as Peter Quantrill clarifies in his booklet note, this LP contained a small cut in the scherzo, made at the composer’s request. Bliss remained equivocal about the length of his concerto and was perennially worried it was too long. The notes state the cut was bars 39-40 but this is a misprint for bars 29-40, as can be seen in the photographic reproduction of the Decca recording sheet. The cut takes 70 seconds or so if you compare both Decca transfers. It’s not in the league of a finale cut in the Elgar concerto I’ve just reviewed, which gouged out over six minutes (for reasons of restricted time on a broadcast performance) but it’s worth knowing that the two editions of the concerto are now available.

If you have Dutton CDBP9780 you will have the recordings of both quartets made by the Griller Quartet, the earlier quartet recorded in 1943 and No.2 in 1950. It’s not otherwise easy to hear No.1 so I’d hold onto that CD. The Dutton and Eloquence transfers stack up quite evenly and since Bliss thought this one of his finest works, it’s a mandatory listen, not least because it was written for the ensemble’s twentieth anniversary and the fact that they were strongly associated with performance of Bliss’s quartets.

This is an excellently produced twofer and acquisition will depend on how much of this material you already have.

Jonathan Woolf

Recording Details
Kingsway Hall, London, February 1946 (Baraza), November 1955 (Violin Concerto, A Colour Symphony, Introduction and Allegro), 30 April 1957 (Things to Come); Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, May 1957 (Welcome the Queen); Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, September– October 1950 (String Quartet No. 2)

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