Welcome the Queen
A Song of Welcome
Miracle in the Gorbals Suite
Music for Strings
Simon Preston (organ)
Joan Sutherland (soprano)
John Cameron (baritone)
New Philharmonia Orchestra [Prelude]
Sir Arthur Bliss
Ceremonial Prelude recorded 28 December 1965 in Westminster Abbey, London; remainder recorded in 1954 in Kingsway Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2007
CD No: EMI 3 70564 2
Duration: 77 minutes
This very welcome release begins with the Ceremonial Prelude, which was recorded at a service in Westminster Abbey (with words from the then Dean) to commemorate to the day the 900th-anniversary of the Abbey’s founding. The music rings out majestically and the organ (played by Simon Preston) has presence. Some of the organ’s tones reproduce as slightly watery though with some mechanical-sounding gremlins on the right-hand channel.
Welcome the Queen is always welcome, a stirring and grand creation, which Bliss would record again (in stereo, with the London Symphony Orchestra), and, pace Andrew Achenbach’s booklet note, that would be of the original score (without chorus, though), for it is the “shorter published version” that is taped here; certainly there a few differences between Bliss’s two recordings.
“A Song of Welcome” is released for the first time. Words of C. Day Lewis are set and the soloists include a young Joan Sutherland – who in 1954 suggested a career of great promise! – and an authoritative John Cameron. “A Song of Welcome” is an exuberant piece, full of invention, and well worth getting to know.
Miracle in the Gorbals is a fine (ballet) score, too, full of imagery and striking details, with some nice ‘Scottish’ touches and enough hallmarks to make it recognisably music by Bliss; energy and atmosphere at full charge.
Music for Strings is one of Bliss’s finest works, first heard at the Salzburg Festival of 1935 with Sir Adrian Boult conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. This is music of power, passion, technical resource and lyrical beauty (and, maybe, an influence on Michael Tippett when, just a couple of years later, he came to write his equally masterly Concerto for Double String Orchestra). Bliss directs a superb performance, really driving the first movement along and allowing the music to sing; the lovely slow movement is without indulgence but it leaves its mark nonetheless.
The musical excellence, and the quality of the performances, makes this composer-conducted release a very desirable one. Unfortunately the re-mastering is less pleasing. It is over-processed (the organ’s watery tones mentioned earlier were the first signs) with a result that bass tones and pianissimo passages curdle; and one can hear the timbres fragment. This really is a shame; important material such as this deserves a better refurbishment than this. Music for Strings suffers the most – anything involving cellos and basses playing quietly: the end of the first movement, the opening of the second, for example. I am pleased to have retained an LP coupling of ‘Gorbals’ and Music for Strings from which the sound in the nether regions is, of course, ‘clean’, and such uncontaminated reproduction should surely be the aim of a well-listened-to digital transfer.