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Bliss: Checkmate, Melee Fantastique / Lloyd-jones

Release Date: 09/20/2005 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557641   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sir Arthur Bliss
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

With this disc, Naxos completes its survey of ballet scores by Sir Arthur Bliss (1891?1975). Previously released were Adam Zero, generously coupled with Bliss?s A Colour Symphony in performances by the English Northern Philharmonia under David Lloyd-Jones (8.553460), and Miracle in the Gorbals, coupled with music from the film Things to Come and Discourse for Orchestra, with Christopher Read more Lyndon-Gee conducting the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (8.553698). In each case, Naxos presents, for the first time, the full ballet scores rather than suites. Much as I have enjoyed recordings of suites from all three ballets, the music is of such a quality, and so symphonic as well as dramatic in concept, that listening to the suites is rather like hearing an abridged Mahler First, or excerpts from Strauss?s Don Quixote: pleasant, but unsatisfactory. The Checkmate Suite recordings I own on CD?Vernon Handley and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on EMI (1978) and Handley again with the Ulster Orchestra on Chandos (1986)?are excellent as to performance and recording, but sadly incomplete. The suite is the same in both, consisting of six of the first seven numbers, but none of the next five, which include the longest and most dramatic movements in the score. Both conclude with an abbreviated version of the finale.

Checkmate tells a grim story, fantastic in conception: Love and Death play a game of chess, but the pieces are human, and not endowed with equal powers. The Black Queen is beautiful, evil, and powerful; neither the Red King nor his Queen can stand against her. The Red Knight can, but falls under the Black Queen?s enchantment long enough for her to slay him. Naxos provides excellent notes by Andrew Burn, so one can follow this drama to its tragic dénouement. Checkmate had its premiere in Paris in 1937; like the First Symphony of William Walton and the Fourth of Vaughan Williams, Bliss?s score seems especially appropriate to the times. The much shorter Mêlée fantasque (1921), while not exactly cheerful, seems by contrast a robustly optimistic piece, even while memorializing a deceased friend and collaborator, the painter Claude Lovat Fraser.

The Scottish Orchestra plays with its usual energy and brilliance, and the sound is vivid, colorful, and, where appropriate, seismic. What a pleasure, at last to hear the complete Checkmate!

FANFARE: Robert McColley
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Works on This Recording

Męlée fantasque, F 119 by Sir Arthur Bliss
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921/1965; England 
Checkmate, F 2 by Sir Arthur Bliss
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; England 

Sound Samples

Melee Fantasque
Checkmate: I. Prologue - The Players: Moderato maestoso
Checkmate: II. Dance of the Red Pawns: Allegro spirito scherzando
Checkmate: III. Dance of the Four Knights: Allegro moderato sempre robustamente
Checkmate: IV. Entry of the Black Queen: L'istesso tempo
Checkmate: V. The Red Knight's Mazurka: Moderato giojosamente
Checkmate: VI. Ceremony of the Red Bishops: Largamente (misticamente)
Checkmate: VII. Entry of the Red Castles: Allegro molto deciso
Checkmate: VIII. Entry of the Red King and Queen: Grave
Checkmate: XI. The Attack: Allegro impetuoso e brillante
Checkmate: X. The Duel: Maestoso moderato e molto appassionato
Checkmate: X. The Black Queen Dances: Allegro dispettoso
Checkmate: XII. Finale - : Andante poco sostenuto - Allegro vivace e feroce

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