Penguin Guide To Compact Discs

Bliss’s Piano Concerto was commissioned by the British Council for the New York World Fair in 1939. It is a powerful work in the nineteenth-century Romantic tradition, and at the time it was hoped it could prove to be a British “Emperor” concerto. It certainly displays a sense of design on a large scale, and Bliss manipulates his concertante forces and develops his themes with boldness and assurance. The snag is that those themes, although often lyrically attractive, are not strong or memorable enough in themselves. Even so, Trevor Barnard’s excellent performance with Sargent and the Philharmonia is commanding, and there is much to enjoy. Barnard is obviously in complete sympathy with the music, and he gives a strong, passionate reading and displays considerable virtuosity. The original recording of the piano is excellent, but rather forward, while the orchestra is recessed and not ideally transparent, as is obvious in the opening tutti. Once the work gets underway the balance is effective enough but the AAD CD transfer does not seem to improve the orchestral focus as much as it might. Nevertheless, a thoroughly worthwhile CD reissue.