Listening to the Chandos CD of Sir Arthur Bliss’ choral works, I was very strongly reminded of War – there is no word more cruel, a poem by Soviet Russian poet Aleksandr Tvardovsky. This poem was also used by Mieczyslaw Weinberg in his Eighteenth Symphony. War is horrific and we should never forget that.
Morning heroes, the symphony for orator, choir and orchestra, composed in 1930 and ordered by Norfolk and Norwich Festival, is, like the 1926 Hymn to Apollo, dedicated to the memory of Bliss’s younger brother Kennard, who died during World War I.
Both works exude immense sadness, anguish and anger. For both works, Bliss used poems by two representatives of the so-called ‘war poets’ generation: Wilfred Owen and Robert Nichols. For Morning Heroes – basically just a requiem – Bliss also used excerpts from Homer’s Iliad and a poem by Walt Whitman.
The two works are new to me, after all they are not often performed. A pity, because both compositions are to die for; they are so beautiful. And so very moving.
The performance by the BBC choir and orchestra is undoubtedly superb. Samuel West recites Hector and Andromache’s farewell from the Iliad as only the English can do it. Subdued and at the same time deeply moving and heartfelt.
Unfortunately, the Chandos recording of Morning Heroes is neither on Spotify nor on You Tube. Excerpts can be listened to here:
SIR ARTHUR BLISS Morning Heroes, F 32; Hymn to Apollo F 116 Samuel West (orator), BBC Symphony Chorus (choral conductor: Stephen Jackson), BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis Chandos CHSA 5159 – SACD – 65′