Bliss and Stanford CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS NEW BLISS AND STANFORD CDS



BLISS: Connolly / BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Davis (Chandos CD / SACD CHSA 5242) ★★★★★

The Enchantress (1951) was written for Kathleen Ferrier as the jilted Simaetha who uses magic to lure her lover back. There's no trace of a tape of Ferrier's 1951 BBC broadcast or 1952 concert in which Bliss said she sang "gloriously". Dame Sarah Connolly's voice is very different, mezzo rather than contralto, but she's tremendous here, totally convincing both vocally and in her evocation of jealous passion. With strong support from the BBC SO under Sir Andrew Davis, this is a mightily impressive performance. Connolly is equally eloquent in the cantata Mary of Magdala (1962) aided by the BBC Symphony Chorus and bass James Platt. The Meditations on a Theme by John Blow (1955) are variations based on a tune from Blow's The Lord is my shepherd (1677). Sometimes delicately pastoral (Meditation 3 Lambs), occasionally forbidding (Through the valley of the shadow) it's an absorbing work. Chandos's sound is lustrous.

Norman Stinchcombe


STANFORD THE TRAVELLING COMPANION: New Sussex Opera Orchestra & Chorus / Purser (Somm Recordings 2 CDs SOMMCD 274-2) ★★★★

This opera from 1916 is based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale with a libretto by poet Sir Henry Newbolt – but there's no Disneyfied sentimentality here. Anderson's tale is a dark one with an enchanted Turandot-style Princess – solve her riddle or get decapitated – and a hero John who needs a supernatural Travelling Companion to defeat the evil wizard. Stanford's score is lively, with engaging pastoral vigour in the Morning Glory chorus, a lively folk-influenced ballet and a cracking storm, all well played by the orchestra under Toby Purser. New Zealand baritone Julien Van Maellerts is excellent in the title role; Kate Valentine's soprano makes for a formidable Princess and if David Horton's tenor is occasionally stretched as John he sounds convincingly heroic. The opera was recorded at a rare performance in 2018, with the usual stage noises and odd balances, but nothing to spoil the enjoyment of this enterprising set.

Norman Stinchcombe

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