Bliss: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet No. 2

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WORKS: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: David Campbell (clarinet); Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557394
Arthur Bliss’s chamber works are comparatively few, but generally substantial – this disc usefully couples two of the most significant. The Clarinet Quintet, composed in 1936 for Frederick Thurston, is one of the few British works in this genre to have established a toe-hold on the repertoire, and represents Bliss at his most warmly lyrical, with a deeply felt concluding Adagietto in memory of the composer’s brother, killed on the Somme. The Second String Quartet, from 1950, was written for the 20th anniversary of the Griller Quartet and is perhaps the most searching and intense of Bliss’s chamber scores – an altogether edgier work, alternately agitated and elegiac. There are a couple of fine accounts of the Quintet in the catalogue already (Janet Hilton with the Lindsays on Chandos, for one); and Hyperion has a satisfying disc of both Bliss’s string quartets performed by the Delmé. But this new Naxos release is a useful coupling of two admirable works, and its budget price should attract them new admirers. David Campbell’s warm and silky tones perfectly bring out the sonorous qualities of the Quintet. The Maggini Quartet, which is constantly widening its repertoire of British music for Naxos, produces thoughtful, richly textured performances, rising to a peak of bravura in the Quartet’s fleet-footed scherzo. Calum MacDonald