Sir Arthur Bliss: The Complete Piano Music

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COMPOSERS: Sir Arthur Bliss
LABELS: Somm
ALBUM TITLE: Sir Arthur Bliss: The Complete Piano Music
WORKS: Valses Fantastiques; Piano Sonata; Suite for Piano; May-Zeeh; Intermezzo; etc
PERFORMER: Mark Bebbington (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SOMM0111

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Sir Arthur Bliss’s output for the piano is, like many things in life, unpredictable. As a student, he discovered a highly personal, Debussy-influenced musical voice in his Intermezzo of 1912, and then renounced it almost at once, as in the fluently anonymous Valses fantastiques of 1913. Moving on to the Suite of 1925, we find an Overture and Polonaise that are again less than memorable.

Then comes a superb Elegy, composed in memory of Bliss’s brother Francis Kennard who died in World War I, and combining sustained depth of feeling with a penetrating ear for piano sound. It’s followed by a return to public-school roistering in the closing set of Variations. In the Sonata of 1952, the same tendency to crassness subverts the two beautifully vivid movements that come before the Allegro finale; and the early May-Zeeh (Maisie, a fellow undergraduate at Oxford) is a trite statement.

Bliss aficionados will enjoy this merry rollercoaster of uneven material. It’s nonetheless to be hoped that in the next volume, Mark Bebbington’s impressive and near-flawless expertise will be deployed in music that’s more often worthy of it.

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Malcolm Hayes