The present collection of works covers, in a very broad way, the entire career of Sir Arthur Bliss. Included are some examples of his "ceremonial" music, his film music, his concerted music, and in one particular case, two different performances of an important early orchestral work.
The ceremonial pieces should be approached purely in terms of the circumstances of their intended performances. As such, they certainly can not be judged as one would more properly evaluate the concert works. They are, however, effective pieces, cut wholly from updated Elgarian cloth, peppered with mild Waltonian dissonance of the Belshazzar variety. The concerted pieces for Cello and Violin respectively are, as always with Bliss, extremely well written, if perhaps a bit "out of date" stylistically when compared to similar pieces by, say, Britten, Tippett or even Edmund Rubbra. Bernard Herrmann's performance of the suite of pieces from the early film score "Things to Come" is solid and effective. The music, which strikes the ear as deriving from the idiom of Bliss' Colour Symphony written 14 years earlier is still quite effective, given the time of its composition and the nature of the film itself.
The real winner in the collection are the two performances of the 1925 Introduction and Allegro - one, an effective digital recording conducted by Barry Wordsworth, and a second, far more compelling analogue recording of a performance conducted by Bliss. The Wordsworth performance is certainly welcome for its clean sonics and "more proper" acoustic balance and presence. However, the performance tends to drag in places - and one feels that Wordworth doesn't quite get Bliss' architectural shape quite right. A certain overall momentum is lost. One anticipates the big molto ritardando in the penultimate measures to be an arrival point - not the place where the air is suddenly, inexplicably let out of the balloon. Bliss' performance demonstrates the real effectiveness of the score as well as his own abilities as a conductor. The performance really crackles - the forward momentum and energy of the performance more than compensates for its less than idea recording quality.
Bliss, the composer, is an interesting enigma. Thoroughly rooted in the Victorian ethos of Elgar, Bliss made a considerable effort at amalgamating elements from the new music of the post WW-I era. To the extent that he was able to find a path away from the more stolid composers of the late 19th century, his music shows a certain originality and is always well crafted. Unlike Walton, who found a much more original and coloful kind of neo-romanticism, Bliss tends to be overshadowed by his immediate older and younger colleagues. It is good to have this collection of pieces to remind us of the connection between Victorian England and the modern world.