Bliss’s Piano Concerto was first performed during the 1939 World Fair in New York by Solomon and the New York Philharmonic conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. (Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus and Bax’s Seventh Symphony were first performed during the same concert.). Bliss’s Piano Concerto is in the big romantic mould, as is his somewhat later Violin Concerto. The music is shot through with highly typical “Blissian” gestures, and the outer movements abound with big swaggering themes whereas the central movement is somewhat calmer. The music has a remarkable energy and dashes about with vitality. But, try as he may, Bliss never succeeded in convincing the present listener with either his Piano Concerto or his later Violin Concerto, both of which I found generally too long and too diffuse to be wholly satisfying. (His much later Cello Concerto is by far the finest of his works in the genre.) However there is much to enjoy in this grand-scale piece and Trevor Barnard is a splendidly equipped pianist who met all of Bliss’s demands, both technical and musical. He seizes the work with a remarkable assurance and succeeds in making it much finer than I think it really is. No small merit here.
Barnard is well supported by the Philharmonia and by Sargent who may be responsible for some slight problems of balance. Nevertheless this is a really fine performance of an ambitious work that may sometimes outstay its welcome. This recording was issued in 1962 by HMV and reissued in 1977 as part of a boxed set of British piano concertos. The present transfer is generally well managed and the sound quite acceptable. Incidentally this is the only available recording of the concerto, so you need not hesitate if you really want to have it, the more so as this performance is a nice tribute to Barnard’s impeccable playing and musicianship.