BLISS: The Enchantress. Medittions on a Theme by John Blow. Mary of Magdala
Dame Sarah Connolly, mezo-soprano James Platt, bss. BBC Symphony Chorus. BBC Symphony Orchestra. Soir Andrew Davis, cond.

SAINT-SAËNS - BOVET: Symphony No. 3 Op. 78 Organ. Romance for Flute and Organ, Op. 37. Tarantella for Flute, Clarinet and Organ, Op. 6
Anne Freitag, flute. Francesco Negrini, clarinet. Ulrich Meldau, organ. Capriccio Baroque Orchestra / Karel Valter, cond.
AEOLUS SACD 10097 TT: 53:25

Chandos is to be commended for issuing lesser-known music of Sir Arthur Bliss. Some years ago this site praised a recording of his major choral work Morning Heroes (REVIEW). Now we have two rare vocal works. The Enchantress (Scene for Contralto and Orchestra, with words adapted by Henry Reed from the Second Idy53:25ll of Theocritus, and Mary of Magdala, a cantata for contralto and bass with chorus and orchestra, the latter here receiving its first recording. The 17-minute Enchantress was written in 1951 for Kathleen Ferrier, who sang the premiere that year in a BBC broadcast. She performed it several times later, but no recording has yet been uncovered, which is unfortunate. In this narrative work, the Cythian lady Simaetha has been deserted by her lover Delphis, and she resorts to sorcery to try to win him back. Her incantations and sorcery serve their purpose, and her lover returns to her. Mary of Magdla was composed in 1962-1952 with a text by Christopher Hassall, to whom it is dedicated. It depicts Mary Magdalene the first to see the risen Christ at the sepulcher. It's 27-minutes describe the action. The brief statements by Christ are sung by a bass. This performances features British mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly (b. 1965). She has had a distinguished career in Baroque music as well w as Wagner and Strauss, appearing in many major opera houses. She is impressive in the emotional, dramatic passages of both works, but at this stage of her career her voice has a tremolo that distracts. The disk is filled out with a more familiar work, Bliss's Meditations on a Theme by John Blow (Psalm XXIII - The Lord is My Shepherd). It was commissioned in 1955 for the City of Birmingham Orchestra and premiered by them that year with Rudolf Schwartz on the podium. Bliss considered this to be one of his most important works, and here it receives a dedicated reading. The recording was made e in London's Warford Coliseum April 13 - 14, 2019, and engineers have provided a splendid muli-channel audio picture. Complete texts are provided as well as profuse program notes.

Camille Saint-Saëns was an incredibly prolific composer writing 12 operas, three symphonies, symphonic poems, five piano concertos, 3 violin concertos and a cello concerto However, he never wrote an organ concerto, so Guy Bovet decided to adapt the composer's famous Symphony No. 3, always called the organ symphony, turning it into a real concerto with the organ having a much more prominent part. In the original version, the organ has relatively little to do except a role in the second movement, and playing loud passages in the fourth. Bovet has indeed provided a major role for the organ throughout even adding a cadenza in the final movement. He also changed the orchestration using 2 flutes (Piccolo), 2 oboes, (c0r anglaise), and pairs of clarinets (bass clarinet), bassoons, horns, trumpets, and trombones, timpani and percussion . Detailed program notes give illustrations of the changes. The performance features Ulrich Meldau performing on the organ of Kuhn Organ of Enge Kirche in Zurich, accompanied by Capriccio Baroque Orchestra led by Karel Valter. Also we have two brief works arranged by Meldau, Romance Op. 37 for flute and organ, and Tarantella Op. 6 for flute, clarinet and organ. Program notes do not indicate original scoring. The recordings were made December 8 and 10, 2017 and April 9 and August 24, 2018, in Zurich's Reformierte Kirche. Excellent multi-channel audio, although not the sonic spectacular of the finest multi-channel recordings of the original work. This is an unusual and quite fascinating addition to the Saint-Saëns discograpohy. It is unfortunate more music wasn't included: playing time is quite brief (53:25).

R.E.B. (February 2020)