Pure Bliss – Oboe Quintet; Conversations; Clarinet Quintet
Juliette Bausor (flute), Daniel Bates (oboe), Katherine Spencer (clarinet), Beatrice Philips, Laura Lutzke (violin), Adam Newman (viola), Hannah Sloane (cello)
Stone Records 5060192781045 68:59 mins
Although Bliss is best known for his mid-career pastoral style (Music for Strings; Morning Heroes), his early works display exciting dalliances with modernism. When Conversations was first performed in 1921, one critic declared it an ‘unholy row’ – which was precisely the effect Bliss desired. In the first movement, ‘The Committee Meeting’, the violin chairs a rowdy council, whose interjections are symbolised by outbursts from the flute, oboe, viola and cello. Juliette Bausor and Daniel Bates – doubling up on flute/alto flute and oboe/cor anglais, respectively – deliver a spine-tingling duet during the bucolic ‘In the Wood’. Bates has tough competition in the ‘Soliloquy’ from Nicholas Daniel, whose recording for Naxos benefits from clearer production.
The Stravinsky-inspired rasping strings that appear in the fifth movement (‘In the Tube at Oxford Circus’) are also present – albeit diluted – in the Oboe Quintet. Composed almost ten years after Conversations, this work – and the later Clarinet Quintet – integrates Bliss’s experimental harmony with a traditional Romantic idiom. The evocative movement titles are replaced with standard Italian terms, and the colourful instrumentation is more polished. Bates is an accomplished soloist; there is rapport between him and his collaborators, many of whom met at the International Musicians Seminar at Cornwall’s Prussia Cove.
Clarinettist Katherine Spencer brings poise and poignancy to the Quintet, a memorial piece to Bliss’s brother, who died during World War I. Extended spiky sections add weight to the occasionally ponderous melodies.