Bliss: Mary of Magdala, The Enchantress - Davis

Bliss: Mary of Magdala, The Enchantress - Davis

Chandos  CHSA 5242

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal

Bliss: Mary of Magdala, The Enchantress, Meditations on a Theme by John Blow (Psalm XXIII – The Lord is my Shepherd)

Dame Sarah Connelly (mezzo)
James Platt (bass)
BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)

Bliss composed The Enchantress in 1951, the year of his sixtieth birthday, for Kathleen Ferrier. The text is a free adaptation of the Second Idyll of Theocritus, made by Henry Reed, and well suited to Bliss’s love of classical Greek authors.

Meditations on a Theme by John Blow, from 1955, was written for the CBSO, the first in a number of commissions from the John Feeney Trust. Inspired by John Blow’s Coronation Anthems, the work is a set of variations on a Sinfonia from that collection, each variation reflecting the text of a verse from Psalm 23. Described as a sacred cantata, Mary of Magdala was Bliss’s second Feeney Trust commission, composed during 1962 and 1963. For a libretto, Bliss turned to Christopher Hassall, his collaborator on three previous works, including The Beatitudes.

Bliss conducted the premiere at the Three Choirs Festival in 1963, and wrote in his programme note: ‘One of the loveliest stories in the New Testament is that in the 20th chapter of St John’s Gospel, telling of how Mary Magdalene, lingering at the sepulchre, was the first to see the risen Christ. She, supposing him to be the gardener.’

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus give of their best under their former chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis, and the contributions from the soloists, Dame Sarah Connolly and James Platt, are outstanding. Recorded in Surround Sound.

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Comments (1)

Comment by Desertpilot - March 30, 2021 (1 of 1)

It's fun to find new and unfamiliar composers. I recently purchased Wilson's "English Music for Strings" (CHSA 5264). One of the tracks, "Bliss: Music for Strings" was a real treasure. This inspired me to look over Bliss compositions. I found this one and downloaded the album in multichannel surround from Chandos today. I found it quite exhilarating. I was very much emotionally connected. Apparently, the "Mary of Magdala" piece is a premiere recording. The choir was exceptional. Soloists are quite "forward, clear and distinguishable" of both the choir and orchestra. Bliss is telling a story. From the liner notes: "In his autobiography, Bliss summarised Hassall’s text, which begins with the description of early morning on ‘the third Day’. ...The librettist then describes Mary’s thoughts as she hurries to the sepulchre, and her recalling the feast where the guests mocked her and Christ showed his compassion. Arriving at the grave she sees the two angels, and then the man whom she supposes to be the gardener, and finally there is the sudden recognition of His presence." Yes. Very operatic and extremely enjoyable. The Chandos engineering team again did a superb job mastering the recording made at the Watford Colosseum. Take a listen. Engaging music.

Plenty of 5 star reviews listed at the Chandos site: Jonathan Woolf - “… For that [Mary of Magadala] alone this disc would be welcome...", Andrew Achenbach – Gramophone magazine “… Sarah Connolly’s thrillingly commanding and excitingly involving portrayal of the spurned Simaetha … demands to be heard, and she enjoys polished and committed backing from the excellent BBC SO under Andrew Davis….", Katherine Cooper – “…The album opens with a hair-raising performance of the dramatic scena The Enchantress… But it’s the final piece here that was the real revelation for me – the 1963 cantata Mary of Magdala..."

Apologies if quoting other reviews is not desired.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV