SIR ARTHUR BLISS: Piano Concerto; Noel Mewton-Wood, piano/Utrecht Symphony Orchestra /Walter Goehr – Pristine Classical

SIR ARTHUR BLISS: Piano Concerto; Noel Mewton-Wood, piano / Utrecht Symphony Orchestra / Walter Goehr – Pristine Classical PASC153, 37:28  [] (download or CD-R available) ****:

Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) wrote with a distinctive accent and his works include many masterpieces of the 20th century, from the early “Colour Symphony” to the “Metamorphic Variations”, a sadly neglected work despite its quality. The Piano Concerto was written in 1938 in response to a commission from the British Council for British Week at the 1939 New York World Fair. Coincidentally, while adjudicating the Ysaye piano competition in 1938, Bliss had been so impressed by the candidates’ playing he was inspired to write a big, bold, Lisztian piece, so the commission was serendipitous.

The first performance took place on 10 June 1939, with Solomon at the piano together with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult, a recording of which survives and is available on the APR label. A rather better-sounding recording was made during the War with Solomon and Boult, this time in Liverpool, available both on Naxos and in an EMI Icon box at budget price. Trevor Barnard’s recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Sir Malcolm Sargent still sounds well in its 1962 EMI stereo sound.

Mewton-Wood’s performance, also available on a British Music Society CD, is very fine indeed, the big bravura passages suiting his terrific technique, the poetic slow movement his ability for quiet and sensitive playing. The first movement’s cadenza shows that prodigious technique off to a tee. Walter Goehr and the Utrecht orchestra are with Mewton-Wood all the way, and, as with most of recordings, the performance sounds spontaneous and live, possibly due to short rehearsal times and long takes.

Mewton-Wood was much taken with the concerto and Bliss with his playing, the result being the dedication of his piano sonata in 1952 to the young pianist. Sadly, no recording of Mewton-Wood playing this is extant.

Originally released in 1952 on a Concert Hall Society LP whose masters are unfortunately lost, the recording has reacted to Pristine Classical’s restoration very well indeed with, I think, more truthful piano sound than on the BMS issue, also dubbed from the LP. This release is available in a variety of formats for download, including FLAC with ambient stereo – supplied for this review. Purists may opt for the straight mono version, but may find ambient stereo works especially well for headphone listening.

Pristine Classical is well under way now in its Mewton-Wood series and I look forward very much to further releases.

— Peter Joelson

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