Bliss: Meditations on a Theme by John Blow

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WORKS: Meditations on a Theme by John Blow; Metamorphic Variations
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572316


These two big variation works are among Arthur Bliss’s most important orchestral utterances. The 1955 Meditations on a Theme by John Blow was the first Feeney Trust commission for the CBSO, and in it Bliss clearly revisited his memories of service in the trenches during the Great War, where he lost so many friends, within a quasi-programmatic succession of variations that allude to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

The Metamorphic Variations, a sophisticated score half-way between variation-set and concerto for orchestra, was inspired by paintings by his long-time friend George Dannatt and was almost his last substantial work. 

Both have been recorded before: Hugo Rignold conducted a superb account of the Meditations with the CBSO in 1966 (now available on Lyrita SRCD.254), while Barry Wordsworth gave the Metamorphic Variations its world premiere with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra in 1991 (Nimbus NI 5294).

David Lloyd-Jones and the Bournemouth Symphony’s accounts do not displace these, but offer alternative readings of two undoubtedly undervalued works which it’s useful and logical to have coupled together. Lloyd-Jones’s tempos in the Meditations seem slower than Rignold’s, but my impression is that Rignold got more of the spiritual essence of this deeply-felt piece; yet Lloyd-Jones treats it with all due seriousness, and the final apotheosis of Blow’s great tune is built with considerable grandeur.


In the Metamorphic Variations, by contrast, I feel Lloyd-Jones finds more in the music than Wordsworth, probing beyond its obvious aspect as a display piece for the various sections of the orchestra. Indeed his performance makes me feel that the work may have been a kind of self-portrait of its creator, as its variations revisit many of Bliss’s characteristic melodic types and gestures. This is certainly a disc that no British music fan should be without. Calum MacDonald