Author Topic: Sir Arthur Bliss  (Read 70037 times)

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Offline kyjo

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #260 on: June 21, 2020, 02:57:49 PM »
I must have missed this post Kyle. The Oboe Quintet is my favourite chamber work by Bliss and I share your view of 'Meditations on a Theme by John Blow' and liked your description of the work. I like the moment just before the end where a 'dark cloud' passes briefly across the Sun implying, I think that spiritual 'victory/enlightenment' (however you interpret that) is never final and we must remain vigilant (that's how I see it anyway!) Good as the Andrew Davis version is my favourite recording is under Hugo Rignold with the City of Birmingham SO on Lyrita.

I love your description of that one passage right before the end of the Meditations! A striking effect indeed. The Oboe Quintet is a fine work, though I enjoy several other chamber works of his equally as much.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2020, 02:59:40 PM by kyjo »
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Offline kyjo

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #261 on: June 21, 2020, 02:59:16 PM »
I don't know if already mentioned but I very much like the Bliss Cello Concerto. A work that struck an immediate chord in me. I like what Bliss said about his creation "there are no problems for the listener, only for the soloist". Only if more composers could be so accommodating. :)

:D I do remember it seeming like a very technically difficult work for the cellist! It’s a fine work; I should revisit it sometime.
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Offline kyjo

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #262 on: June 26, 2020, 06:33:14 PM »
Was listening to this disc yesterday:



Strangely, Bliss' most popular work, A Colour Symphony, leaves me cold for the most part. I'm not really sure why; I just don't find most of the ideas memorable at all. I like the lyrical first movement well enough, but the only thing I can say I remember from the remaining movements is a rather academic fugue at the beginning of the finale. To me, the companion work on this disc - the ballet Adam Zero - is a much more compelling and engaging work. I'm surprised it's barely been mentioned at all in this thread. This is characterful, memorable music with a strong rhythmic and melodic profile. Some of the lyrical music is truly sexy (witness the Love Dance) and I couldn't sit still in my seat during the exceptionally groovy, jazz-influenced Night Club Scene. The variety of influences and ideas present cohere surprisingly well and this is a work I'll certainly be returning to soon. Highly recommended! Now I'm excited to hear Bliss' other ballets, Checkmate and Miracle in the Gorbals.
"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music" - Sergei Rachmaninoff

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #263 on: June 26, 2020, 07:11:07 PM »
I don't know if already mentioned but I very much like the Bliss Cello Concerto. A work that struck an immediate chord in me. I like what Bliss said about his creation "there are no problems for the listener, only for the soloist". Only if more composers could be so accommodating. :)
+1
I like all three of his concertos and have recently been enjoying the Violin Concerto as performed by Campoli.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #264 on: June 26, 2020, 07:18:40 PM »
Was listening to this disc yesterday:



Strangely, Bliss' most popular work, A Colour Symphony, leaves me cold for the most part. I'm not really sure why; I just don't find most of the ideas memorable at all. I like the lyrical first movement well enough, but the only thing I can say I remember from the remaining movements is a rather academic fugue at the beginning of the finale. To me, the companion work on this disc - the ballet Adam Zero - is a much more compelling and engaging work. I'm surprised it's barely been mentioned at all in this thread. This is characterful, memorable music with a strong rhythmic and melodic profile. Some of the lyrical music is truly sexy (witness the Love Dance) and I couldn't sit still in my seat during the exceptionally groovy, jazz-influenced Night Club Scene. The variety of influences and ideas present cohere surprisingly well and this is a work I'll certainly be returning to soon. Highly recommended! Now I'm excited to hear Bliss' other ballets, Checkmate and Miracle in the Gorbals.
I enjoy 'A Colour Symphony' Kyle but don't consider it one of Bliss's finest works. I also like Adam Zero which I think is Bliss's finest Ballet score. I'm sure that you'll enjoy Checkmate and Miracle in the Gorbals which are both exciting and memorable scores. Bliss is an interesting composer. He is not one, perhaps, of the greatest British composers but I often find myself returning to his music. I think that 'Morning Heroes' is his greatest work, especially in Charles Groves's recording:
« Last Edit: June 26, 2020, 07:21:05 PM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Online Roasted Swan

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #265 on: June 26, 2020, 11:08:02 PM »
Was listening to this disc yesterday:



Strangely, Bliss' most popular work, A Colour Symphony, leaves me cold for the most part. I'm not really sure why; I just don't find most of the ideas memorable at all. I like the lyrical first movement well enough, but the only thing I can say I remember from the remaining movements is a rather academic fugue at the beginning of the finale. To me, the companion work on this disc - the ballet Adam Zero - is a much more compelling and engaging work. I'm surprised it's barely been mentioned at all in this thread. This is characterful, memorable music with a strong rhythmic and melodic profile. Some of the lyrical music is truly sexy (witness the Love Dance) and I couldn't sit still in my seat during the exceptionally groovy, jazz-influenced Night Club Scene. The variety of influences and ideas present cohere surprisingly well and this is a work I'll certainly be returning to soon. Highly recommended! Now I'm excited to hear Bliss' other ballets, Checkmate and Miracle in the Gorbals.

Kyjo; You are not alone - by all accounts Elgar didn't like the Colour Symphony either, but it is one of my favourite Bliss works - to my ear it oozes with memorability  A few years ago the BBC used the scherzo as their theme for the Olympics coverage.  Listen to the smooching harmonies in "Green".  Bliss operates on a higher level of dissonance in his harmonic writing than most composers who you might otherwise group together.  Even things like the "Things to Come" march are not just a kind of latter day Pomp & Circumstance but something pretending confidence shot through with doubt - the harmony working against any 'comfortable' security.

The 3 main ballets (there's at least one other - the least well known Lady of Shallot) are all superb.  Sadly only Checkmate is still in the ballet repertoire in terms of being danced.  It is an incredibly powerful work seen staged - the denouement of the Red King being killed by the Black Queen is genius - especially in the original choreography.  I saw it many years ago at the Royal Opera House and it remains one of my most treasured performance memories.  I love the music of Miracle in the Gorbals.  The value of the Naxos recording is that it is complete - the only version.  But to get the spirit of the music Berglund in Bournemouth on EMI/Warner is better.  He gets the range of the moods more powerfully from threatening to joyful.  Its a rather dark story with evil triumphing over good - but in essence that is the theme behind all 3 of the Bliss ballets;  Death triumphs over Love in Checkmate; old age defeats youth and aspiration in Adam Zero and Evil over Good in "Miracle".  In Checkmate and "Adam" - the end of the ballets 're-set' - so there is hope.... of a kind.  "Miracle" is rather more bleak.

PS:  the original LP of "Miracle" from Berglund was coupled with the Arto Noras version of the Cello Concerto - and that remains my favourite version of that great work too.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #266 on: June 26, 2020, 11:20:32 PM »
Kyjo; You are not alone - by all accounts Elgar didn't like the Colour Symphony either, but it is one of my favourite Bliss works - to my ear it oozes with memorability  A few years ago the BBC used the scherzo as their theme for the Olympics coverage.  Listen to the smooching harmonies in "Green".  Bliss operates on a higher level of dissonance in his harmonic writing than most composers who you might otherwise group together.  Even things like the "Things to Come" march are not just a kind of latter day Pomp & Circumstance but something pretending confidence shot through with doubt - the harmony working against any 'comfortable' security.

The 3 main ballets (there's at least one other - the least well known Lady of Shallot) are all superb.  Sadly only Checkmate is still in the ballet repertoire in terms of being danced.  It is an incredibly powerful work seen staged - the denouement of the Red King being killed by the Black Queen is genius - especially in the original choreography.  I saw it many years ago at the Royal Opera House and it remains one of my most treasured performance memories.  I love the music of Miracle in the Gorbals.  The value of the Naxos recording is that it is complete - the only version.  But to get the spirit of the music Berglund in Bournemouth on EMI/Warner is better.  He gets the range of the moods more powerfully from threatening to joyful.  Its a rather dark story with evil triumphing over good - but in essence that is the theme behind all 3 of the Bliss ballets;  Death triumphs over Love in Checkmate; old age defeats youth and aspiration in Adam Zero and Evil over Good in "Miracle".  In Checkmate and "Adam" - the end of the ballets 're-set' - so there is hope.... of a kind.  "Miracle" is rather more bleak.

PS:  the original LP of "Miracle" from Berglund was coupled with the Arto Noras version of the Cello Concerto - and that remains my favourite version of that great work too.
Very nice analysis RS. It must be great to see 'Checkmate' performed on stage. The notes for the new Decca Originals Bliss set references Elgar's disappointment with A Colour Symphony. Elgar may have been a greater composer but I find that I listen to Bliss much more than to Elgar.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #267 on: June 27, 2020, 12:37:23 AM »
Arrived today. The CD also contains a nice bonus (especially for a resident of Sussex), Bax's 'Morning Song' (Maytime in Sussex):
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #268 on: June 27, 2020, 07:11:56 AM »
On to the Bliss PC now. The climax of the first movement is one of the great Bliss moments for me and here it is very well realised. The Rubbra is a reflective and poetic work and the Bliss is a Grand Statement. What an attractive CD plus Bax's 'Maytime in Sussex' is an added bonus:

So, two great CDs have been smuggled into the house this weekend. Barbirolli's 70th Birthday concert with a fine Vaughan Williams's 6th Symphony and this one:

 ;D
« Last Edit: June 27, 2020, 07:18:30 AM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Online Roasted Swan

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #269 on: June 28, 2020, 01:45:32 AM »
On to the Bliss PC now. The climax of the first movement is one of the great Bliss moments for me and here it is very well realised. The Rubbra is a reflective and poetic work and the Bliss is a Grand Statement. What an attractive CD plus Bax's 'Maytime in Sussex' is an added bonus:

So, two great CDs have been smuggled into the house this weekend. Barbirolli's 70th Birthday concert with a fine Vaughan Williams's 6th Symphony and this one:

 ;D

I've been listening to this new disc too.  The Rubbra impressed - exactly as you describe.  The Bliss has never engaged me as much as many of his other works - too self consciously barn-storming and trying to impress in a latter-day warhorse manner.  Good performances here - the Rubbra especially.  I think the Bliss is better served by Donahoe on Naxos who really goes for the big virtuosic manner.  May Song is a late Bax charmer - good performance again although I would also prefer Wass on Naxos if I had to choose one.  But its splitting hairs stuff.....

Offline Christo

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #270 on: June 28, 2020, 03:57:30 AM »
Strangely, Bliss' most popular work, A Colour Symphony, leaves me cold for the most part. I'm not really sure why; I just don't find most of the ideas memorable at all.
I enjoy 'A Colour Symphony' Kyle but don't consider it one of Bliss's finest works.
Kyjo; You are not alone - by all accounts Elgar didn't like the Colour Symphony either, but it is one of my favourite Bliss works - to my ear it oozes with memorability.

Very interesting to learn & also a bit of a shocker for me: I side with Roasted Swan here, find A Colour Symphony really a towering masterpiece, probably my favourite of all of Bliss compositions (especially the first three movements a 'cup overflowing'). It is, of course, a symphony of the Great War just as much as its contemporary 'A Pastoral Symphony' by Vaughan Williams, both full of double layers and brimming with this 'special meaning'.  :)
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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #271 on: June 28, 2020, 04:31:33 AM »
I've been listening to this new disc too.  The Rubbra impressed - exactly as you describe.  The Bliss has never engaged me as much as many of his other works - too self consciously barn-storming and trying to impress in a latter-day warhorse manner.  Good performances here - the Rubbra especially.  I think the Bliss is better served by Donahoe on Naxos who really goes for the big virtuosic manner.  May Song is a late Bax charmer - good performance again although I would also prefer Wass on Naxos if I had to choose one.  But its splitting hairs stuff.....
Interesting to read RS. The CD gets a good review in the Sunday Times Culture section today. I think that I prefer  the recording of the Bax on Chandos. I hadn't realised that it had been written for the 21st Birthday of Princes Elizabeth, as she then was. I hope to play the CD again later.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #272 on: June 28, 2020, 04:34:42 AM »
Very interesting to learn & also a bit of a shocker for me: I side with Roasted Swan here, find A Colour Symphony really a towering masterpiece, probably my favourite of all of Bliss compositions (especially the first three movements a 'cup overflowing'). It is, of course, a symphony of the Great War just as much as its contemporary 'A Pastoral Symphony' by Vaughan Williams, both full of double layers and brimming with this 'special meaning'.  :)
I do enjoy the work but think 'Morning Heroes', for example, is the greater work. I must listen to A Colour Symphony again. I remember being especially impressed by Charles Groves's recording as I was of his towering version of 'Morning Heroes' which I prefer to the recent Andrew Davis version. I think the point is that I find A Colour Symphony very enjoyable and it has an exciting conclusion. However, I do not finding it moving in the way I do the last part of Morning Heroes or the Meditations on a Theme by John Blow or even parts of Miracle in the Gorbals and Adam Zero.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2020, 04:38:05 AM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline kyjo

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #273 on: June 28, 2020, 05:43:06 AM »
Kyjo; You are not alone - by all accounts Elgar didn't like the Colour Symphony either, but it is one of my favourite Bliss works - to my ear it oozes with memorability  A few years ago the BBC used the scherzo as their theme for the Olympics coverage.  Listen to the smooching harmonies in "Green".  Bliss operates on a higher level of dissonance in his harmonic writing than most composers who you might otherwise group together.  Even things like the "Things to Come" march are not just a kind of latter day Pomp & Circumstance but something pretending confidence shot through with doubt - the harmony working against any 'comfortable' security.

The 3 main ballets (there's at least one other - the least well known Lady of Shallot) are all superb.  Sadly only Checkmate is still in the ballet repertoire in terms of being danced.  It is an incredibly powerful work seen staged - the denouement of the Red King being killed by the Black Queen is genius - especially in the original choreography.  I saw it many years ago at the Royal Opera House and it remains one of my most treasured performance memories.  I love the music of Miracle in the Gorbals.  The value of the Naxos recording is that it is complete - the only version.  But to get the spirit of the music Berglund in Bournemouth on EMI/Warner is better.  He gets the range of the moods more powerfully from threatening to joyful.  Its a rather dark story with evil triumphing over good - but in essence that is the theme behind all 3 of the Bliss ballets;  Death triumphs over Love in Checkmate; old age defeats youth and aspiration in Adam Zero and Evil over Good in "Miracle".  In Checkmate and "Adam" - the end of the ballets 're-set' - so there is hope.... of a kind.  "Miracle" is rather more bleak.

PS:  the original LP of "Miracle" from Berglund was coupled with the Arto Noras version of the Cello Concerto - and that remains my favourite version of that great work too.

Thanks for the extensive reply, RS. I totally agree with you about Bliss’ unique harmonic language which is unpredictable and subtly dissonant yet never abrasive. In some of his works, I find it a bit too elusive, but in others it’s wonderfully effective. Your descriptions of Checkmate and Miracle in the Gorbals have certainly piqued my interest! Well, in fact, I have heard the latter, but it’s been years and I don’t recall it very well.
"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music" - Sergei Rachmaninoff

Offline kyjo

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #274 on: June 28, 2020, 05:47:16 AM »
I've been listening to this new disc too.  The Rubbra impressed - exactly as you describe.  The Bliss has never engaged me as much as many of his other works - too self consciously barn-storming and trying to impress in a latter-day warhorse manner.  Good performances here - the Rubbra especially.  I think the Bliss is better served by Donahoe on Naxos who really goes for the big virtuosic manner.  May Song is a late Bax charmer - good performance again although I would also prefer Wass on Naxos if I had to choose one.  But its splitting hairs stuff.....

It’s hard for me to imagine Donohoe’s recording of the PC being bettered - his big-boned, percussive playing is ideally suited to the work. Also, great to hear that the Bax Maytime in Sussex is included on the new Hyperion disc - a lovely work.
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Online Roasted Swan

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #275 on: July 04, 2020, 02:49:22 AM »
It’s hard for me to imagine Donohoe’s recording of the PC being bettered - his big-boned, percussive playing is ideally suited to the work. Also, great to hear that the Bax Maytime in Sussex is included on the new Hyperion disc - a lovely work.

I've been listening to this new Hyperion disc more.  The Bliss is a perfectly good version overall;  Piers Lane is excellent but I find the orchestra just a bit underpowered and reticent and Botstein an efficient but not inspiring 'leader'.  But I find that with most of his recordings - he is more inspired choosing the repertoire than he is performing it.  Can you think of a single recording where multiple versions exist where Botstein leads the field?  He's been lucky to work with good orchestras on good labels so the discs often sound very fine but strip that away and its pretty "penny-plain" (not sure if that is just a UK-centric phrase!)

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #276 on: July 04, 2020, 02:58:51 AM »
I've been listening to this new Hyperion disc more.  The Bliss is a perfectly good version overall;  Piers Lane is excellent but I find the orchestra just a bit underpowered and reticent and Botstein an efficient but not inspiring 'leader'.  But I find that with most of his recordings - he is more inspired choosing the repertoire than he is performing it.  Can you think of a single recording where multiple versions exist where Botstein leads the field?  He's been lucky to work with good orchestras on good labels so the discs often sound very fine but strip that away and its pretty "penny-plain" (not sure if that is just a UK-centric phrase!)
Good to hear your views. I rather like this recording of the Piano Concerto and also for the tribute to Churchill:
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

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Offline Symphonic Addict

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #277 on: February 24, 2021, 04:33:08 PM »
I've been listening to Bliss' string quartets from the Naxos CDs. Some of his most rewarding and greatest works IMO. The 2nd is truly fantastic in its harmony, intensity and ferocity. I'd say it's a masterpiece. I'm glad I discovered these works.
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Offline kyjo

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #278 on: March 08, 2021, 10:54:33 AM »
I've been listening to Bliss' string quartets from the Naxos CDs. Some of his most rewarding and greatest works IMO. The 2nd is truly fantastic in its harmony, intensity and ferocity. I'd say it's a masterpiece. I'm glad I discovered these works.

I only know the first quartet (which is great), so I definitely need to listen to the second! His Clarinet Quintet (coupled with the 2nd quartet on Naxos) is a fantastic work, full of rhythmic vigor and poignant harmonies. Bliss’ music is most often so satisfying to listen to - he doesn’t write instantly hummable tunes per se but there’s a certain fascination and unpredictability to his harmonic and rhythmic writing.
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Offline kyjo

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Re: Sir Arthur Bliss
« Reply #279 on: March 14, 2021, 08:49:41 PM »
Lately I've been blown away by Bliss' Music for Strings (1935), specifically the recording of it found in this stupendous new Chandos album:



Bliss did this work no favors by giving it such a generic title. It's a work so full of life and vigor that grabs your attention right from the beginning and never lets go. And, goodness, do the Sinfonia of London under John Wilson play it to the hilt! They must be one of my current favorite orchestra/conductor combos along with Pittsburgh/Honeck and Bergen/Litton. The entire album is a must-hear for those interested in this repertoire. I hope they go on to record a sequel - I'd love to hear them in Tippett's roughly contemporary Concerto for Double String Orchestra, for instance.
"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music" - Sergei Rachmaninoff