BLISS Piano Music Vol 2
The second volume in Mark Bebbington’s welcome and conspicuously classy survey of Bliss’s complete piano output contains one premiere recording – and quite a find it proves to be! The three-movement Suite for piano was composed around 1912 (by which time Bliss was already a most proficient pianist) and certainly reveals a burgeoning, questing talent; its central Ballade in particular evinces an exciting dramatic and poetic scope that put me in mind of some of the astonishingly precocious offerings of Herbert Howells (one of Bliss’s contemporaries at the Royal College of Music). By the time we reach the exhilarating Masks (1924) and marvellous Two Interludes (1925), Bliss’s emotional range had deepened immeasurably. Not only had he seen courageous and harrowing active service in the trenches but the death of his beloved younger brother Kennard at the Battle of the Somme had also come as a shattering blow; indeed, it’s not hard to hear the sense of poignancy, loss and rage in the final two Masks (marked ‘Sinister’ and ‘Military’) and opening Interlude especially.
The meatiest fare on the disc comprises the Triptych that the septuagenarian composer wrote in 1970 for Louis Kentner – a wholly compelling, deeply felt statement, demanding not only formidable technical acumen but also unwavering powers of lofty concentration. It’s framed in turn by two deliciously bluesy dance miniatures, ‘Bliss’ (One-Step) and The Rout Trot from 1923 and 1927 respectively. That just leaves the disarmingly tasteful and suitably pensive reworking of the chorale prelude Das alte Jahr vergangen ist (‘The old year has ended’), Bliss’s contribution to a collection of Bach arrangements for the modern piano devised by Harriet Cohen and published by Oxford University Press in 1932.
I’m happy to report that Bebbington’s stylish and perceptive interpretations have been immaculately captured by producer Siva Oke and engineer Paul Arden-Taylor working in the helpful surroundings of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. What’s more, Robert Matthew-Walker’s authoritative booklet essay is a joy to read. All told, a super release.