Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Recorded on 9 & 10 August 2004 in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler
Reviewed: October 2005
CD No: NAXOS 8.557641
Duration: 65 minutes
During the course of his career, and like a number of twentieth-century composers, Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) went from enfant terrible to establishment figure. But his posthumous reputation is pulling out of the doldrums in which it has been stuck for too long, and this CD is Naxos’s latest contribution to the process.
Mêlée Fantasque was Bliss’s first orchestral work to be played in public, in 1921. The influence of Stravinsky, especially Petrushka, can be heard (Bliss thought of it as his first ballet score), but there are also, already, signs of an Elgarian sensibility. It’s a lively, colourful piece with a dark, enigmatic ending.
This CD’s main interest is the second complete recording of the 1937 ballet Checkmate. The concert suite consists of the opening six movements and the finale. This leaves five more numbers you may not have heard before (unless you own Barry Wordsworth’s ASV recording), although ‘Entry of the Red Castles’ recycles ‘The Building of the New World’ from Bliss’s score for the film “Things to Come”.
David Lloyd-Jones and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra bring both works vividly to life in these incisively rhythmic performances. The individual numbers in Checkmate are strongly characterised: the brass snarls balefully in the ‘Prologue’, ‘The Red Knight’s Mazurka’ is impressively athletic, and the limpid woodwind solos are a joy throughout. There is also a strong feel for the scenario’s overall narrative, culminating in a gripping sense of drama and urgency in the final confrontation between the Red King and the Black Queen.
The excellent recording combines pin-point clarity of detail with both depth and presence.