Bliss: Piano Quartet in A minor; Angels of the Mind; Triptych; Four Songs; The Rout Trot; Bliss

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COMPOSERS: Bliss
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Piano Quartet in A minor; Angels of the Mind; Triptych; Four Songs; The Rout Trot; Bliss
PERFORMER: Chamber Domaine
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1128
The two really striking pieces here both come from Bliss’s last years. The song cycle Angels of the Mind and the solo piano Triptych were written, respectively, in 1968 and 1970 – a period when Bliss could hardly have been less fashionable. Far from demoralising him as a composer, neglect and critical dismissal seem to have stiffened his resolve. The gritty, muscular inventiveness of Triptych comes across well in Stephen de Pledge’s performance. First-time listeners should start there, then try Angels of the Mind, which shows Bliss responding to Kathleen Raine’s verses with wit and some emotional force – effective even if soprano Helen Meyerhoff’s singing tends to be rather monochrome. The other pieces, however, make less of an impression. It’s difficult to say whether it’s due to the plodding earnestness of the performances, or whether the music itself simply gives Chamber Domaine less to work with – a bit of both, I think. It’s hard to listen to the Twenties naughtiness of Bliss (A One-Step) or The Rout Trot without concluding that Constant Lambert and the young Walton did this sort of thing rather better. The earlier Piano Quartet may be more technically accomplished than a lot of contemporary Vaughan Williams (whom it often resembles), but it lacks VW’s strength of voice. The recordings bring the musicians very close to the listener; the immediacy is sometimes exciting (as in Triptych), but it can be a bit intimidating. Stephen Johnson

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