Gramophone

Though hardly cutting edge for its time, Bliss’s Concerto is a work of much ingenuity, and Trevor Barnard is a splendid soloist. Now that it no longer matters (if it ever did) whether Arthur Bliss’s Piano Concerto was an absurd anachronism in 1938, surely we can just sit back and enjoy it for what it is: a virtuoso showpiece with all the trimmings – sweeping romantic melodies, cascades of double octaves, the lot? And yet it is rather more than that. The first movement has three fine themes: a grandly proud one, a smooth lyrical second (as it happens, both quite typical of Bliss) and a memorably beautiful third which you only gradually come to realise is related to both its predecessors. With that sort of ingenuity there’s no risk at all that the first movement, which is rich in texture, incident and interest, will seem a moment too long at 17 minutes. The slow movement is engaging in the way that both its melodies develop in unexpected ways: the first, touching but seemingly brief, is expanded quite differently by the orchestra and the soloist, and the second, which you take for charming light relief, soon becomes grandly pianistic. The finale is no less clever – you may well want to play it again from the beginning, to find out how the brusque, brief figure at the outset becomes so nobly declamatory by the end. The repeat will be no hardship: that finale is a resourcefully handled quasi-rondo, again rich in incident and contrast. Unfortunately, this fine performance, so well-received when it first appeared, is let down by its dated sound.

The solo part is splendidly played (though Sargent could have taken more care over orchestral balance, which is sometimes gawky) but the mono recording is rather dense, a bit veiled at times, with insufficient dynamic contrast. Short measure too, but the only modern recording, by Philip Fowke adds only a five-minute march, and is only available on cassette. Despite my reservation I enjoyed this reissue enormously.

—Michael Oliver