Bliss: Checkmate; Mêlée Fantasque

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bliss
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Checkmate
WORKS: Checkmate; Mêlée Fantasque
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557641
Once again Naxos and David Lloyd-Jones put us in their debt with a first-class performance, at bargain price, of an otherwise unobtainable classic of British music. The suite of dances which Arthur Bliss extracted from his ballet Checkmate is comparatively familiar, but it represents less than half of the score. This is the only available version of the full ballet, and while one can see that not all the other numbers lend themselves to extraction as set pieces, almost all the music is to the same high, full-blooded standard: there’s very little filling, and as a whole it bears comparison with its near-contemporary, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. From the start of the ‘Attack’ movement to the ‘Checkmate’ finale – virtually the second half of the ballet, and only the finale appears in the suite – this is thrillingly exuberant and colourful music at Bliss’s highest level.

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The early Melée Fantasque is much more than a makeweight: written in memory of the artist Claude Lovat Fraser and one of Bliss’s first characteristic pieces, it was one he remained very fond of and recorded with the LSO for Lyrita (no longer available). Lloyd-Jones’s tempos are faster than the composer’s, but there’s no lack of expansiveness in the elegiac slower episodes that punctuate the effervescent throng. Superbly alert and responsive playing from the RSNO make this disc a real bargain. Calum Macdonald