Bliss: Songs

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COMPOSERS: Bliss
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Geraldine McGreevy (soprano), Toby Spence (tenor), Henry Herford (baritone), Kathron Sturrock (piano); Nash Ensemble/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67188-89
Sixty years’ worth of songs from a composer for whom songwriting was more stimulus and exploration than obsession adds up to a wonderful scrapbook of social, personal and musical history. From an early, Brahmsian Housman setting of 1904 to the visionary poems of Kathleen Raine in 1968: this double album of the songs of Arthur Bliss is a revelatory document and a source of ever unpredictable delight.

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The programme is dominated by two song cycles long overdue for revival: A Knot of Riddles, from Kevin Crossley-Holland’s modern version of the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book, and the 1968 Raine settings, Angels of the Mind. Henry Herford relishes the Barber-like lithe and limber word-setting of this half-English, half-American composer in Riddles, just as the Nash Ensemble warm to the Gallic vivacity of the ensemble writing. And Geraldine McGreevy and Kathron Sturrock rise to the ripe, high-fibre fruit of the composer’s retirement in the strong, lucid word-setting of Angels.

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Herford and Sturrock also take on Bliss’s intense and fastidious musical responses to the spiky sorrow of Edna St Vincent Millay’s writing in Seven American Poems – and there are many more wonders. These songs beg to be performed more often. Hilary Finch