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Rebecca Eldridge has been an exceptionally busy bassoonist over the last week or so. During the last weekend in March she played in the Elgar Sinfonia for the Kidderminster Choral Society, playing next day in the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra. And last Sunday she starred as soloist in the Nino Rota Concerto for her instrument.
She and Malvern's Chandos Symphony Orchestra had only met the previous day, and this was the first time she had ever performed this rare work with orchestra accompaniment. The result was exhilarating.
It's a colourful piece, generous with melody, eloquently harmonised, glamorously scored and energetically rhythmic (seeing soloist and harpist bopping away during the silent bar was a tonic in itself) — and owes a huge debt to Prokofiev's ballets.
But so what? It's both fun and affecting, the bassoon sometimes assumes a poignant Falstaffian character, and Rota's well-judged writing for the instrument demanding a huge range if technique and musicianship from the soloist, challenges to which Eldridge rose magnificently. She brought a fabulous tone uniformly persuasive throughout a huge range, dexterity, wit and poise, and a machine gun clarity of articulation.
Framing this were two Russian masterpieces, conductor Richard Laing [persuading these only-occasionally meeting amateurs that they can punch well above their weight. Stravinsky's Firebird Suite was excitingly delivered, with marvellous solo woodwind contributions, the ferocious Infernal Dance confident in its terrorising.
And Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony, a work which means so much to Laing (who emerged emotionally drained at the end), was given with an impressive maturity of tone (not least from the heavy brass) and a wonderful combination of the balletic (fluttering woodwind, for example) and the introspective.
But there were problems of intonation in the nether regions from which the symphony emerges and into which it sinks at the end. We had noticed the same as the Firebird opened. Individual pre-rehearsal part-learning is one thing, but in the short time the players get together, they must learn more how to listen and adjust to each other.
The Malvern-based Chandos Symphony Orchestra, always renowned for the enterprising nature of its programming, put on its most ambitious presentation yet on Sunday, bringing three masterworks of early last century which would tax even professional ensembles.
Certainly these dedicated amateurs could have done with a departure from their usual restricted rehearsal policy, and had a couple more sessions to consolidate confidence and liberate a bit more fantasy.
Strings needed a deeper roundness of tone at times (which would have led to greater security of intonation), just as brass could have done with greater self-belief, but nevertheless this was an enormously engaging evening to enter into the Chandos archives.
Rachmaninov's haunting tone-poem The Isle of the Dead rocked and flowed with a sureness of pulse under Peter Stark's baton as the rowing-boat in Bocklin's amazing painting brought its coffin to rest. Climaxes were built with patient inevitability, but timbres were occasionally coarse in this most chillingly austere of scores.
David Greed was the soloist in Samuel Barber's once-declared unplayable Violin Concerto, his rich singing tones persuading a snappy orchestra to join him in an unveiling of lush romanticism instead of pursuing the dream of open-air prairies. And his dexterity in the fizzing, sparky finale was matched by an on fire Chandos, with Stark securing a deftly witty ending.
Outstanding in Stravinsky's Petrushka (more difficult actually even than the Rite of Spring) were the young pianist Peter Shepherd (pity Stravinsky forgets about this huge role halfway through) and the Chandos woodwinds, not least oboist Philip Shields after his wonderful contribution to the Barber's slow movement, and especially flautist Sarah Ellis.
Caution was the watchword here, so we lost some of the essential elements of the story's drama, beautifully recounted in John Gough's excellent programme-notes. Never mind: Stark and his willing musicians gave Malvern a rare hearing of this seminal work, and for that Chandos deserves the region's deep thanks.
Last weekend's anniversary-celebrations concluded in Malvern: 35 years of the resourceful Chandos Symphony Orchestra, 25 years that it has had the musicianly insights of Michael Lloyd as its principal conductor, and 20 years of its Young Musician Competition.
There was also the incidental matter of the bicentenaries of the births of Verdi and Wagner (just as well their aspirations to jostle each other as the world's greatest operatic composer were foiled by the unassailable Mozart), and their music provided us with a delicious programme which absentees should be kicking themselves to have missed.
Chandos were taut and lively, winds well-chorded, in Verdi's La Forza del Destino Overture, and did their best for the absurd Macbeth ballet music, with deftly-tongued brass and a beautifully-delivered flute decoration.
Julian Close's baleful, commanding bass tones and natural sense of line were perfectly suited to an aria from one Verdi's greatest operas, Simon Boccanegra, his cavernous, sepulchral registers combining with venomous consonants and hooded eyes to make him a fearsome Hunding in Act One of Wagner's Die Walkure.
For once one could understand this man's hatefulness, as his wife Sieglinde displayed an unusual flirtatiousness and determination as she invited a wayfaring stranger into their home. Lee Bissett, her recent Longborough performances so memorable, brought so much to this rewarding role, body - and eye-language allied to a huge voice which never lost beauty of tone and sensitivity of phrasing.
And John Llewelyn Evans as Siegmund responded magnificently, properly heroic, his singing reflecting the redemption and salvation he has found in his long-lost twin sister.
Lloyd's Chandos played smilingly and enthusiastically throughout. Plaudits to the Wagner tubas, to the bass clarinet, to the cellos; but really to all concerned in this special evening.
Michael Lloyd has steered the intrepid Chandos Symphony Orchestra through several Shostakovich symphonies over the years, and on Sunday he notched up one of the composer's rarely-heard ones, the enigmatic Sixth.
What are we to make of this work, with its impassioned first movement unfolding at length, followed by two slighter movements, one a sinister, almost Mahlerian, scherzo, the other a helter-skelter burlesque which lets everyone's hair down but demands huge concentration and control (John Gough's elegant and informative programme-notes expanded knowledgeably upon the context)?
Chandos came through the test with a great deal of credit, and all on just two weekends of rehearsal. This was a particularly good night for the woodwind, and not only in this piece. When Shostakovich thinks flute, he thinks desolation, and Sarah Ellis delivered the first movement's lengthy, meandering solo with gripping eloquence.
This opening movement is built upon unison textures, always well-sustained under Lloyd's encouraging baton, and the upper strings lamented with characteristic Russian fulsomeness.
The first half of the concert did not achieve quite the same degree of success, though there was much that was heartening in the performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto by the Chandos Young Musician 2011 winner, Jinah Shim.
Interchanges between soloist and Lloyd's well-marshalled orchestra were flowing and well-balanced, Shim's own balance between the fingers of each hand was thoughtful and clear, and a genuine atmosphere was created — not least the suspense as the end of the central Intermezzo approached.
We had begun with Copland, his Fanfare for the Common Man designed as a warm-up to his El Salón México (but the fanfaring trumpets needed to have warmed-up more beforehand), and then the exuberant Latin-American piece itself. Excellent trumpet and clarinet solos (Richard Brooks giving an unflinching downward slide), but tightness of ensemble all round in these complex rhythms was achieved at the expense of tone and intonation.
Richard Strauss's Concerto for Oboe opened Chandos's concert with Lydia Griffiths.
The Chandos Young Musician winner 2009, an assured soloist, plunged straight into the first Allegro with florid episodes of melody, in partnership with beautifully toned strings, woodwind and horns.
Continuing without breaks between movements, Lydia's long-phrased cantabile line through andante was especially lovely when cellos were alongside; her vibrant cadenza led to an exuberant Vivace and ultimately to the dazzling final section.
A brilliant trumpet solo introduced Mahler's Fifth Symphony, a work of gargantuan proportions, the huge orchestral demands ideal for Chandos to get its teeth into. It was a tour de force and the orchestra excelled in every aspect.
The funereal marching, lamenting, blistering brass and moments of reflection amongst the passion and hysteria, marked the first part. The Scherzo heard a solo horn calling and everyone celebrated with folk waltzes; excitement mounted as the orchestra electrified the audience.
The Adagietto for strings and harp was an oasis of serenity and the final allegro was full of contrapuntal agility.
The sound of Chandos was magnificent. It was a huge undertaking, but with conductor Michael Lloyd, the orchestra was held firmly in check. The result was an impressive accomplishment!
Chandos Symphony Orchestra's concert was full of colour and surprises as can be guaranteed from these dedicated musicians.
Malcolm Arnold's portrayal of the epic story by Robert Burns of Tarn o'Shanter, who habitually had a drop too much to drink, was vividly re-created by Chandos.
Mimicry of bagpipes and jazzy distorted pipes and drums were emulated humorously.
Knoxville, Summer of 1915, Op.24 by Samuel Barber, with soprano soloist Anna Patalong, was reflective in mood as the singer reminisced about her time in Tennessee.
The orchestra was supportive, creating a gentle atmosphere while the singer soared to beauti- ful quiet heights in a vocal line" of simplicity.
Elgar's Bavarian Dances Op. 2 comprised a rather heavy-footed The Dance, Lullaby, with some lovely legato playing, and The Marksmen achieving a glorious patriotic finish.
Symphony No. l in B flat minor by Walton is a massive work which the Chandos made an excellent job of.
The first Allegro, discordant brass rising up foreboding and jarring, timps and woodwind — quite overwhelming!
On to the second movement of agitating strings and explosions of brass, woodwind forcing through in throbbing monotones until the fervent Andante, a threnody of watery woodwind and plucked strings, plaintive solos, solemn beat of drums: tension mounted dramatically, and the closing Maestoso drove on until sudden rests and orchestral blasts.
A huge range and complexity of sound was embraced in the Chandos's concert with Michael Lloyd conducting, leader Shulah Oliver.
First we were transported to the sultry atmosphere of Spain in Chabrier's Rhapsody for Orchestra 'Espana'.
Plucking resembled castanets, and moody horns and trombones with woodwind and percussion evoking excitement and energy.
A solo lucid flute pervaded Prélude — l'après-midi d'un faune by Debussy in an emotive interpretation as murmuring low strings, beautiful harps, impressionistic horns and woodwind, described the thoughts a young faun had of love. Soloist Anne-Marie Owens (mezzo soprano), was added for Schéhérazade by Ravel, a song cycle when the orchestra instilled a back- drop for this dream of amorous eroticism.
All the bitterness and pessimism Shostakovich felt was shown in the Chandos's exposition of his Symphony No. 8 in C minor. The orchestra's instrumentalists imbued stark discomfort from the violins, even more frightening when other strings, trumpets and woodwind joined in, and a rising hymn of mourning threatened. They all added lo the cacophony in an amazing performance.
The high-light of this concert by the Chandos conducted by Richard Laing, was the performance of William Walton's Violin Concerto, a challenging work of technical virtuosity, with Caroline Pether winner of the Chandos Young Musician Competition in 2008, as soloist.
Andante tranquillo began with mesmerising sounds of horns, low strings and woodwind, the soloist emerging simultaneously with her theme. Later, her cadenza was impressively varied with double-stopping and beautiful high notes. Orchestral 'tutti' playing was powerful and Caroline's low notes were like rich velvet.
Presto capriccioso alla napolitana plunged the Chandos into action and Caroline moved with bravura between pizzicato and harmonics.
The final Vivace of super rhythmic low strings, fluttering violins and Caroline's illusive high registered accompanied cadenza, closed with a spirited march concluding a competent delivery by this talented young violinist, although there had been moments when the orchestra had been at variance with her.
The Wasps by Vaughan Williams opened with stunning buzzing strings and folk-like tunes in glorious light-hearted polyphony, harp and woodwind adding colour.
The atmospheric Noonday Witch by Dvorak gave the fabulous Chandos a real chance to show its merit as the lowest notes of the tuba, and other noteworthy brass chased strings, woodwind and percussion.
In tuneful excerpts from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, the orchestra was magnificent, especially in The Battle when crashing cymbals and drums echoed around.
This was an attractive and varied concert with the principal aim of showcasing the remarkable talent of Caroline Pether, winner of the Chandos Young Musician Competition in 2008
Young she may be, but her mature musicality and superlative technique meant that within seconds of the opening of Walton's Violin Concerto we were drawn into a yearningly lyrical performance that put aside any thoughts of her youth. Originally written for Jascha Heifetz, this piece demands a lot from its soloist and Pether showed us every facet of the work from soaring open-hearted melodic lines to exhilarating technical display, infused with Mediterranean warmth and passion. Conductor Richard Laing steered a secure course through the concerto's severe orchestral demands which combined rhythmic firmness and forward momentum with emotional radiance. This was a deeply felt performance and Caroline Pether is definitely a name to look out for.
Elsewhere was pure delight too, with a lot of excellent playing. In Vaughan Williams' Wasps Overture the horns distinguished themselves with their glorious big tune, Dvorak's The Noonday Witch traced its grisly story of a child killed by an evil spirit with Straussian precision and hideous malevolent triumph at the end. It was a relief to turn to the more friendly fairytale world of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. The generous excerpts from Act 1 gave the orchestra many opportunities to display their rich string tone, characterful woodwind and to close the concert with a feeling that all was right with the world.
The Chandos orchestra never shrinks from a challenge, and after their last concert of light music this programme of "Russian and German giants" presented an evening at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.
By the time Shostakovich came to write his Second Cello Concerto he was at the end of his psychological tether. The conflicts between his public face as a Soviet composer and his interior world as a creative artist had become almost too much to bear.
As cello soloist David Cohen said in his perceptive remarks to the audience, this concerto is not a dialogue but a fight between the soloist and the orchestra. The conflict was set at the start with the lamentations of the cello set against the very Russian darkness of double basses and cellos, and then the sinister tones of low woodwind and contrabassoon.
Throughout this tragic and bitter piece all attempts by the orchestra to rouse the soloist from his introspection were short lived. Even the macabre faster central movement descended from would-be optimism into jeering woodwind lines and deformed brass fanfares. The emotional and technical demands were more than met by the orchestra, conducted with cool precision by Alice Farnham.
Cohen was a masterful soloist, absolutely commanding throughout, whether playing quietly or battling against the many outbursts of the large percussion section. In the finale the sense of anguish was palpable as the few recurring moments of orchestral warmth were extinguished, leaving the soloist with his defiant final sustained note.
Rachmaninov's First Symphony ended the concert. Here we were on more familiar stylistic ground although this work too gives the sense of emotion suppressed. In this meticulously marshalled performance the polished strings seized all of their opportunities. Romantic phrases were lovingly shaped, while the fugue had a terrific rhythmic precision. The lightness of the scherzo delighted, the splashes of percussive colour perfectly gauged, and the woodwind excelled in the slow movement with the two clarinets billing and cooing at its close. The finale, with its brilliant brass fanfares, had a real sense of momentum, and if this was not quite enough to provide a total resolution of the conflicts along the way this was the young Rachmaninov's fault, rather than the conductor's.
This concert was an emotional journey that will live in the memories of those who heard it for a long time.
CHANDOS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA was again in fine form on 15th November in Malvern Theatres. Conducting the orchestra for the first time, Alice Farnham opened with Wagner's masterly Tannhäuser overture, which was played with the utmost virtuosity and conviction. Her reading vividly captured the mood of the piece. The string tone was rich, the brass mellow, and the sensuousness of the drunken revels of the Bacchantes arresting.
After this wonderful opening, the riches became even greater in Shostakovich's haunting, but essentially lyrical, Second Cello Concerto. Unlike the First Concerto, the Second has never established itself in the regular repertoire, but, in the hands of the masterly David Cohen, its eloquence and beauty shone through. David brought out the smiling melancholy of the piece, and eloquently expressed the composer's troubled thoughts. The orchestra's playing was nothing short of brilliant, with a succession of tricky solos carried off with panache.
The concert concluded with Rachmaninov's First Symphony, where Alice Farnham's rapport with Russian music was again impressive. There was real poetic vision here, and with the large orchestra responding with sonority and precise articulation, a genuinely tragic and heroic performance resulted.
New bassoon concertos don't appear all that often, and ones with added jazz are even more unusual. So the long-awaited world premiere of Robert Farnon's Romancing the Phoenix was something of a coup for the Malvern-based Chandos Symphony Orchestra.
This 100-strong amateur ensemble, which for 21 years has been directed by Michael Lloyd, a professional conductor of varied and international experience, plays to a very high standard and at times could easily be mistaken for a full-time professional orchestra.
Such was the case on this occasion, with Lloyd firmly in control of the material and his players responsive and at ease on what must have been very unfamiliar ground.
Completed only weeks before Farnon's death in 2005, the concerto is a three-movement work for solo bassoon, full orchestra and a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums. It was written for and dedicated to the American bassoonist Daniel Smith, a multi-talented performer equally adept in classical music, jazz and crossover. And it's these qualities that shape and inform the music.
However, there were times during the opening Andante Moderato when the combination of forces seemed uneasy. The bassoon sounded too strongly amplified, which robbed Smith's cantabile of some of it lyricism, while much of his jazz inflected note-bending, elegiac enough in its way, lay uncomfortably against Farnon's lush string scoring. But when the music lifted off into brass-led big band territory, with bass and drums stompingly prominent, everything fell into place and one could appreciate the necessity for amplification.
The slow movement also started reflectively, if rather aimlessly, again reserving its best moment â with the soloist pitted against full brass â until the end.
As did the finale, although there were excitements along the way, including full-blown and quite punchy improvised choruses by Smith and his jazz partners, Sean Whittle (piano), Russell Swift (bass) and Steve Smith (drums.)
For me the work's high spot came in the concluding bars, with a flying scamper of bassoon and orchestral woodwind culminating in a glorious Mahlerian tam-tam clang. It was the sort of uninhibited, hair-raising effect we could have had a lot more of earlier.
One wonders how eager other bassoonists will be to perform Romancing the Phoenix. If it is to enter the repertory (publishers Warner/Chappell obviously hope so) it will need sympathetic handling by all concerned — and much better sound management than we heard in Malvern.
Intense rehearsals allotted for this "chalk and cheese" concert doubtless left little time for Elgar's Cockaigne Overture. Unhelpful acoustics gave massive string forces a curiously soft edge which could have translated more romantically for the typical Edwardian nobilmente passages.
Woodwind tuning eventually settled adding to splendid brass. However, totally inaudible/invisible sleigh bells disappointed in London's horse-drawn scenery, colour and drama surely being percussion's raison d'Ãªtre?
Classical contrast came with Beethoven's Violin Concerto played by Edgar Bailey, winner of the Chandos Young Musician Competition 2007. Here is an emergent musician of interesting potential but needing more maturity for this challenging work. A neat accuracy throughout was admirable, his sweet tone eventually flowering into more passion in the cadenzas. Pizzicato accompaniment was somewhat ragged in the lovely interpretation of the slow movement, but thankfully the initial tempo of the finale eventually gathered momentum, although the soloist could indulge in far wider dynamics particularly in the passages less obscured by the enthusiastic orchestra.
From the very first haunting tones of the magical opening solo bassoon this enormous assembly of committed amateur musicians certainly delivered the goods for Stravinsky. His Rite of Spring is a scary challenge, but one would be hard pressed to better the dedication in this performance, passionately directed by conductor Miachael Lloyd. No passengers could weather the brutal fortimissimo taut string chords — truly hair-raising — with everyone concentrating and giving their all. A triumphant performance, but with a rider for more barbaric ferocity from the two sets of timpani, please.
Central to this concert was the performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major with Edgar Bailey as soloist. He was winner of the Chandos Young Musician Competition 2007, part of the prize being the chance to perform a concerto with the orchestra.
Michael Lloyd was conducting, encouraging and supportive as ever and together a most satisfying delivery was accomplished. After a lengthy orchestral introduction during which Edgar waited with assurance, he entered with his own long solo. His highest notes were beautiful and finely tuned, and his low register was richly honey-toned.
An intense orchestral section with fabulous lower strings prefaced Edgar's exposed cadenza. The slow movement revealed splendid woodwind and brass episodes and alternation of the lyrical theme with the soloist until everyone launched whole-heartedly into the final Rondo of rhythmic exchanges.
This was a jolly good effort from Edgar and much enjoyed by the large audience.
The concert had opened with a noble interpretation of ELgar's Overture Cockaigne, expressive and with occasional clashes of cymbals, timpani and glorious brass, and concluded with The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. The huge orchestra was in its element as it created a magnificent theatrical effect from the imaginative and fervent score, using the whole gamut of instrumentation.
The chemistry between the Chandos Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Michael Lloyd is something unique, as was confirmed by Sunday's concert celebrating 30 years of the orchestra's existence and Lloyd's 20 years at its helm.
Chandos' policy of only holding weekend rehearsals during the fortnight before each concert can only work with a conductor as dedicated and methodical as Lloyd, though, truth to tell, there were aspects of this particular event where I felt a couple more rehearsals would have settled the players into a more confident sense of delivery.
And nowhere more was this apparent than in an engrossing account of the Enigma Variations, composed right here under the shadow of the hills by Malvern's favourite son, Edward Elgar.
After a fizzing, exuberant Shostakovich Festive Overture, the introspective Variations dug deep into the technical resources of the players, and I mean no disrespect when I comment that this less than streamlined performance was probably something very close to those Elgar would have heard in the early years of this masterpiece's existence — British orchestral music had certainly never known anything like it.
None other than the world's greatest-ever conductor, Gustav Mahler, conducted the Variations in New York just at the time that he was completing his valedictory symphonic song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde.
Though scarcely celebratory in one sense, in another this performance of the Mahler celebrated the sheer expertise and commitment of these amazing part-time players.
The vocal soloists — tenor Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts and mezzo Anne-Marie Owens (what an unforgettable "Abschied" she gave us!) — projected magnificently in this difficult acoustic, but it was the contribution of Lloyd's orchestra, not least the spine-tingling oboe, which set the seal on this memorable experience.
The 30th Anniversary of the Chandos coincided with 20 years of association with conductor Michael Lloyd, so there was plenty of reason for rejoicing.
A well-tuned, rousing brass and timpani fanfare erupted into an exhilarating performance of Festive Overture by Shostakovich, where the animated strings, woodwind and cymbals raised ihc roof in celebration.
The Enigma Variations by Elgar was a popular choice for the very large audience. A lovely interpretation was delivered involving gorgeous cellos, rushing strings, super bassoons, colourful woodwind, mellow horns and an important viola solo.
Distinguished soloists Anne-Marie Owens (mezzo soprano) and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts (tenor) joined the orchestra for Mahler's emotive and spiritual work Das Lied van der Erde, which demands very large orchestral forces, an ideal piece for the exceptional Chandos.
Bringing atmospheric textures of celestial strings and harp, laughing brass, jolly woodwind, with super solo passages by flute. oboe and lead violinist, all the musicians performed with sensitivity.
The closing bars, soprano singing "Ewig, ewig..." (forever) with ethereal orchestration including a gong, celeste, bassoon, low brass and strings were most beautiful.
A champagne reception was held after this memorable concert, during which thanks and presentations were made.
A wonderful account of Elgar's Cello Concerto by the winner of Chandos's 2005 Young Musician Competition was the centrepiece of a brilliant concert from Chandos Symphony Orchestra in the Forum Theatre, Malvern on 7th September last.
Jessica Hayes is in her final year at the Royal Academy of Music and she showed extraordinary maturity in her interpretation. Playing throughout with the most wonderfully rich and full tone — no doubt helped by the Nicola Gagliano cello of 1764 lent to her by the RAM — she gave a reading which concentrated more on the shadow and subtext of the work, rather than on its big emotional tug. There was an intense inner light to this performance which revealed more of the true spirit of Elgar than many a highly charged emotional one. The reserved dignity of her playing resulted in all sorts of magical touches, but for me it was the inwardness of the final diminuendo that set the seal on this fine performance. Support from the orchestra was splendid and not once was the soloist overwhelmed by Elgar's rich scoring.
Guest conductor Richard Laing must have had a hard task directing an orchestra which for twenty years has been led almost exclusively by the consummate and experienced musician Michael Lloyd. But Richard Laing obviously knew his scores extremely well and was true to the composers' wishes throughout the evening. He shared Jessica Hayes' view of the Elgar and led the orchestra through the concerto with scrupulous flexibility and dedication.
Interpreting Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony must have been an enormous challenge for Richard Laing but he had a very clear view of the piece and gave us a reading of profound seriousness. He had an absolute sureness as to how the problematic finale should be played and the brassy bombastic optimism which earned the symphony a triumphant reception in 1937 was not for him. He preferred to emphasise the bitter irony of the piece, thereby revealing the terrifying nature of this music. Chandos responded superbly with playing of epic proportions — epitomised in the finale by the vibrant strings, which for once were balanced equally with the brass's mocking heroics.
The concert had begun with Rimsky-Korsakov's Capricco Espagnol in which the fast tempi led to occasional imprecise playing. String tone was uncomfortably hard but these imperfections were soon forgotten in the glories of the rest of the concert.
Painting a great fresco in sound depicting humanity trembling on the brink of Judgment Day, Verdi's Requiem speaks for all of us. The scenes it evokes are apocalyptic, the pleadings from soloists and chorus are touching in the faith that an eternity of light might lie beyond.
And all of this is conveyed in music which takes no prisoners, where extremes of terror summon extremes of vocal and instrumental expression, and this is perhaps a work where amateurs, unpolished and honest, can convey its deepest essence.
Sunday's account from the Massed Choirs of Making Music West Midlands Societies, together with the part-time but expert Chandos Symphony Orchestra, came very close to the heart of the work. Remarkable was the maintenance of pitch in the notorious unaccompanied vocal passages.
If anything stood in the way, it was the gusty performance from some of the professional soloists, plangent instead of persuasive, stentorian when the composer asks for the sweetest tones, and lacking in the hard, desperate bitterness of lower register which is such a Verdian characteristic.
But mezzo Anne-Marie Owens was outstanding in her many contributions, surely a tribute to her long operatic experience.
And it was the operatic experience of conductor Michael Lloyd which was the crucial factor in the success of the evening. His speeds were adroitly paced, his shaping of vocal lines, whether from soloists or chorus (and how lightly he made this huge corpus sing when appropriate), was considerate and expressive, and his perception of the underlying drama — how close much of this music is to Aida, not least that opera's concluding Entombment Scene — brought home all the anguish and hope implicit in Verdi's score.
The Chandos Symphony Orchestra, under Michael Lloyd, gave a large audience a memorable evening at the Malvern Theatre on 9 March. To open the concert, the orchestra was joined by Aydin ÃnaÃ§ as soloist in Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto. Mr Önaç's technical command, his rapport with conductor and orchestra and, above all, his expressive insight and shaping of phrase made it amazing to discover that he has a quite different 'day job' — as headmaster of a large London school. The orchestra was on good form, by turns expansive and energetic over the sweep of this exhilarating score, but also — for example — capturing the troubled atmosphere that surfaces in parts of the celebrated slow movement. If Aydin Önaç was, with his thoughtful and humane virtuosity, the star of this item, orchestra and conductor then found a mountainous vehicle for their talents in Bruckner's Seventh Symphony. The difficulty of this music lies not so much in the immense length as in structures that — except perhaps in the magical scherzo — ask players and conductor to bind disparate ideas and moods, from the contemplative to the heroic, from intense introspection to celestial rhapsody, into one overarching whole.
That the Chandos succeeded so well is a tribute to the players and to their remarkable conductor. Michael Lloyd communicates a sense of shared artistic endeavour beyond the orchestra to the audience itself. He conjured fine sound from every section of the large band, and created a unity, in ensemble, dynamics and rhythmic drive, that encompassed this epic work's myriad aspects, from the heartfelt cantabile of the slow movement's elegy to Wagner, through the dancing, careering episodes of the scherzo to the finale where, as at times in earlier movements, it was as if the listener, and the whole auditorium, were enveloped in radiant sonority.
A beautifully chosen programme, some outstanding orchestral playing diffused through with considerable sensitivity, and a fine soloist combined to make this perhaps the best of the Chandos' concerts I have ever heard.
A spirited delivery of Walton's Overture: Portsmouth Point, spiky rhythms alongside fine unison strings and a super tuba, opened the evening.
It continued with a breathtaking interpretation of Britten's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra by soloist Lorraine McAslan. She really understood this tragic. elegiac music and as she surmounted technical demands and dug deep into dark shadowy emotions, the Chandos met her challenge.
A solo timpani rhythmic beat pursued by the lyrical high flying violinist set the mood for the first movement.
In the second, Lorraine danced, the orchestra integrated with full-blooded involvement, woodwind adding decoration to the soloist, prefacing her cadenza of brilliance — harmonics flying off, double stopping, lyricism and so much more.
Trombones made an entry as they pronounced the theme of the closing Passacaglia. A tortuous ending came as orchestra and soloist rose in lamentation.
Noble, majestic music of Elgar's Symphony No.l was given a beautiful legato and expressive beginning, and through the Adagio, Michael Lloyd (conductor) drew a most lovely ebb and flow of sweeping melody, passionate and poetic.
Finally, with the return of the original theme, soaring strings, harps and horns added intensity to the full orchestra. This concert was the Chandos on top form and it deserved a larger audience.
Still developing as an instrument, the marimba can easily be viewed as a vehicle merely for spectacular virtuosity.
And brilliant technique was certainly in evidence on Sunday, when the diminutive Yin-Shan Hsieh showed fascinating command of this bigger, mellower relative of the xylophone in Keiko Abe's Prism Rhapsody. Winner of the Chandos Young Musician 2006 prize, Yin-Shan is a student of Birmingham Conservatoire, and indeed two of her fellow Conservatoire percussionists were playing in the Chandos Symphony Orchestra accompanying her.
There were some striking visual images, such as the spider's web-like patterns woven in the air by three mallets gripped in each hand, and hypnotic single-mallet bravura rippling across the rosewood bars.
But there were also great reserves of musicality in evidence: subtle nuances between the hands, an almost sexy shaping of phrases, and a magical interlude of nocturnal sounds exchanged between soloist and the enthusiastically supportive orchestra.
A Rachmaninov-like cadenza near the end prepared us for that composer's rewarding Third Symphony, the orchestra here responding with great flexibility to conductor Michael Lloyd's natural rubato whilst preserving an underlying strong rhythmic pulse.
Delicate woodwind touches underlined the often pointillistic nature of the score, which broods with a Hollywood-style sense of drama and also breathes some surprisingly Elgarian elements — perhaps not so surprising when you remember that Rachmaninov once played his own Third Piano Concerto in a programme which also included the Enigma Variations (and Mahler, no less, was the conductor).
Elgar himself was represented by his splendid In the South Overture, the Chandos strings needing to pay more attention to tuning in big unisons, the bassoons adding some perceptive detail, and twittering stewards disturbing our concentration by admitting latecomers.
Chandos' opening concert of the season, with Michael Lloyd conducting and Kathryn Rutland leading, gave us the chance to hear Yin-Shan Hseih (marimba), winner of Chandos Young Musician 2006.
The performance was of Prism Rhapsody for Marimba and Orchestra by Abe.
After a flamboyant orchestral beginning, the soloist embraced a more celestial mood of multifaceted sounds as she extracted watery 'rippling effects, danced in syncopation with the orchestra or imitated percussive drums.
Yin-Shah is a delightful performer to watch. Her virtuoso cadenzas were impressive and her range and depth of sound exciting. The Chandos captured the style of music but was frequently too loud .
Elgar's concert overture In the South launched the Chandos joyfully, the celebratory brass excelling strings exuding warmth and beauty, woodwind colourful.
However, when playing tutti it all became too strident and noisy. The viola solo and harps were a welcome respite.
The orchestra brought most wonderful melodic lines to life in Symphony No 3 in A minor by Rachmaninov, by low strings especially and harps, as well as a mellow horn. The percussion (xylophone notably), woodwind, and solo violin also added much interest. The final crescendoed accelerando provided an exciting end.
The musicians of the [orchestra] and their eminent [conductor] Michael Lloyd set themselves a sizeable challenge by programming two symphonies — Malcolm Arnold's No.5 Op.74 and Tchaikovsky's No.6 in B minor, Pathetique, Op.74.
Lloyd's introductory comments were most helpful regarding Arnold, a conscientious objector, and his thoughts about friends including Gerard Hoffnung and Dennis Brain.
This huge symphony requiring an orchestra of many and varied facets began with a solo oboe, which was soon tutti, including tubular bells. Tempestuoso exuded aggressive anger, especially from brass and pizzicato strings. But sweet harmonies from the magnificent strings contrasted and fine solos by clarinet, trumpet, horn and tuba featured.
Andante con moto was a wonderful transience to serene beauty as the expressive phrasing achieved by strings, and delicacy of harp and flute, interrupted by some dissonance from the brass, culminated in an unforgettable diminuendo and ritardando.
Tight rhythmic fragments, smoochy violins and joking woodwind characterized Con fuoco, and military aspirations within Risoluto of brass, drums and piccolos worked towards a brilliant climax, cymbals crashing — and suddenly, a pianissimo lone bell sounded.
This had been a perceptive interpretation, accomplished with distinction.
The Pathetique was another triumph as the Chandos performed this well loved work with passion.
At first sight a concert all about the sea would appear to offer little variety. This one admittedly had its fair share of wind and waves — and even the same titles — but there were several rewarding differences.
Most interesting of all was the opportunity to compare Britten's Four Sea Interludes with the less familiar The Sea, by his teacher Frank Bridge. Despite similarities of mood and structure (each starts with a scene-setter before moving on to a scherzo and ending with Moonlight and Storm movements) they are quite unalike. Bridge's lyricism is more generally evocative and often very romantic, whereas Britten's highly individual subject-specific approach seems almost visual.
Conductor Michael Lloyd made them sound different too. The Sea benefited from warmly focused string playing and deftly handled wind and brass detail, with a concluding Storm high in dramatic excitement. Britten's Interludes on the other hand (and his Storm in particular) were much harsher, and rather nervy in places, reflecting perhaps the greater technical demands of the score.
In La Mer Lloyd and this enterprising amateur orchestra judged Debussy's tonal landscape perfectly, throwing off the various twiddly bits in Jeu de vagues with remarkable accuracy and achieving in the storm-tossed Dialogue du vent et de la mer a compelling and effulgent sounding sense of menace.
They also gave a sensitive reading of Elgar's Sea Pictures, which New Zealand mezzo Helen Medlyn sang with immaculate articulation and clear words. She didn't deny the poetry's sentimentality either, with smiles, wistful gazes and hand gestures that some might have regarded as signs of a period interpretation. Sunday's audience certainly loved it.
The Chandos Orchestra, with conductor Michael Lloyd, was on good form and its maritime choice was very enjoyable.
Mezzo-soprano Helen Medlyn, from New Zealand, was the outstanding soloist in Elgar's Sea Pictures.
Her consummate performance showed she had studied with a keen eye, noting the composer's many score markings regarding tempi and expression. Her vocal range, from the lowest register to a soaring penultimate top A, was evenly produced and diction was clear — an ideal singer for this work!
In Haven was restrained and beautiful, Helen's breath control supporting those long legato phrases, the orchestra rippling gently.
Glowing low strings introduced Sabbath Morning at Sea, the full orchestra sympathetic in a meaningful and dramatic delivery.
Where Corals Lie displayed meticulous string plucking, and vitality contained in the text of The Swimmer surged onward, brass and woodwind superb, to the climax.
Atmospheric orchestral pieces included Suite: The Sea by Frank Bridge, portraying the sea in different guises. Splashing water in Sea Foam was heard clearly, woodwind and horns especially colourful. Shimmering flutes and glowing brass created Moonlight, and thundering timps, brass and crashing cymbals set against rushing strings conjured up Storm.
Britten's theatrical concept of Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes were given a tremendous final orchestral descent in Storm, and La Mer — Three Symphonic Sketches by Debussy effected a brilliant dialogue between wind and sea, concluding with full throttle orchestration.
There were so many goodies in the Chandos Symphony Orchestra's generous sackful of ballet music on Sunday that it felt just like Christmas.
And in fact conductor Michael Lloyd did cast something of a Santa-like presence as he returned to his Worcestershire roots, straight from all the glitz of the new London production of The Sound of Music, of which he is assistant musical director.
It would have pushed the seasonal analogy too far to have Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker in the programme, but a rarer treat came with the complete Act One from The Sleeping Beauty by this greatest of ballet composers.
Lloyd, such an experienced ballet conductor, drew a well-built, judiciously balanced account from this splendid part-time orchestra, woodwind filigree telling against full-throated string melodies. The performance was brisk and urgent where appropriate, with a natural lilt in the wonderful Waltz, and leader Kathryn Rutland's solo was lovely.
Totally different in its musical language is the celtic twilight world evoked by Holst in the fascinating ballet music from his Perfect Fool, tautly delivered and conquering this shrill, noisy acoustic in a thrilling reading zinging with concentrated energy.
And different again is the cheeky sentimentality of Poulenc's Les Biches, perhaps the most endearing of ballet scores.
Trumpets were less than acute here, but Philip Shields' oboe solo in the gorgeous Adagietto hit the spot perfectly, despite Lloyd's slightly muscular response. Never mind, there was plenty of wit and grace elsewhere.
Arch wit and geometric grace informed Stravinsky's Jeu de Cartes, too, but strings needed the confidence to project more in this performance which trod a tight-rope of accuracy. One more rehearsal might have worked wonders.
Martin Cousin was the eagerly anticipated soloist in this performance by the Chandos Symphony Orchestra.
His formidable virtuoso technique was obvious from the first cascade down the keyboard in Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16, which also saw some beautiful orchestral playing under the baton of Michael Lloyd.
The brilliant cadenza, incorporating extensive double octave passages and left-hand meteoric arpeggios, was most exciting, while the Adagio moved to a tremendous climactic end.
Tragic Overture in D minor, Op.81 by Brahms was ushered in with timpani, a dejected sounding oboe, lush strings and the transparent strains of woodwind. The middle section was kept under tight rhythmic control, the brass leading the way to a powerful tutti finish.
Mood changes within Dvorak's Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70 were achieved with considerable impact. A sombre beginning gave way to a lighter aspect, before the full orchestra joined together frenetically. In Poco adagio, a serene clarinet and other fine woodwind prevailed, while the spirit of Czech dance rhythms was caught in Scherzo: Vivace.
However, in theFinale: Allegro, despondency was still evident, even as melodious strings moved towards a fortissimo finish.
105 years ago Elgar's sublime Dream of Gerontius was premiered at Birmingham Town Hall with a professional orchestra under the baton of a conductor (Hans Richter) awesomely experienced in the world of opera from which this "Sacred Cantata" obtained most of its structure and language. And it failed.
Sunday it was given in Symphony Hall by a massed choir some 200-strong, an amateur orchestra, and a conductor (Michael Lloyd) as steeped as Richter in the operatic tradition. And this time it was a brilliant success.
Part of the explanation lies in the preparation, when this huge choir assembled by Making Music West Midlands to celebrate its 70th anniversary was rehearsed in three separate venues over five weeks by immensely sympathetic chorusmasters (Colin Baines, Keith Orrell and Colin Touchin) — the premiere had seen the gruesomely unattuned William Stockley preside over seven short-time rehearsals.
History lesson over, Sunday's performance of Elgar's masterpiece had everything. A chorus singing out of its socks, a semichorus (Christopher Hand's Beaumaris Singers) which responded with the utmost delicacy to Elgar's celestial demands, the Chandos Symphony Orchestra inspired even by its own exacting standards, and three soloists who sang with the utmost commitment and communication.
The exciting young Samoan bass Jonathan Lemalu brought genuine human warmth to the utterances of the Priest and the Angel of the Agony (who can sound such a bore from other voices). Christine Rice conveyed solace and hope as the guardian Angel of Gerontius' soul, her vocal timbres laden with other-worldly compassion (this is a singer to watch), and as Gerontius, Geraint Dodd, an eleventh-hour replacement, was simply perfect, with conscientiously clear diction and a dignified awareness of his approaching transference into eternity.
from CLASSICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF 2005 by Christopher Morley...
Symphony Hall also hosted a tremendously moving Dream of Gerontius featuring a specially-formed choir drawn from members of the Midlands branch of Making Music, with Michael Lloyd persuading the remarkable amateur Chandos Orchestra to a resplendent unfolding of Elgar's searching score.
Anyone misguided enough to declare 20th-century music is not for them should have publicly eaten their words on Sunday, when the remarkable Chandos Symphony Orchestra presented three of that century's greatest masterpieces, and all of them staples of the concert repertoire.
Composed almost exactly halfway through the period, and shamelessly delving into a language obsolete by decades, Richard Strauss' heart-breaking Four Last Songs drew a deeply moving interpretation from the CSO, inspired by the wise, operatically-experienced conducting of Michael Lloyd and the serene, beautifully projected singing of soprano Mary Plazas.
With tone blooming like orchids at the top of her range and supple, sympathetic phrasing, she unfolded these texts with a wonderful sense of inevitability and acceptance, and had the gift, when not herself singing, of focusing our attention on what was a rich, sinewy account of Strauss' sumptuous score by the CSO. Top marks to solo horn and violin.
As different from Strauss as chalk and cheese, Sibelius brings chill Nordic gales where the Bavarian master intoxicates with the air of the hot-house. Perhaps the nearest the Finnish composer ever got to sunnier climes was in his Second Symphony, and under Lloyd's thorough preparation the Chandos players delivered an ultimately stirring account.
Weak horns robbed the opening of its momentum, but tremendously brave rubato from pizzicato lower strings ushered in a spooky slow movement, and blazing trumpets crowned a finale of bracing power.
Tapiola's bleak soundscape was powerfully conveyed after a nervous start, with special praise to an enviable bassoon section.
One forgets sometimes just how many musical conservatives there are in the world and it is a pity the Forum Theatre in Malvern was not filled with them last May for they would have discovered from Chandos Symphony Orchestra just how appealing a programme of 20th Century classics can be. Strauss' Four Last Songs has become a real 'Desert Island Disc' in the last decade, but it does need really sympathetic interpreters to penetrate the heart of the piece. One could not have wished for more from Mary Plazas: her tone was rich, her phrasing sympathetic and her voice soared over the rich accompaniment of Michael Lloyd's orchestra. Key solos from horn and violin were beautifully played and the performance as a whole was a wonderful evocation of Richard Strauss' serene farewell to life. The other composer in the concert was Sibelius and one could not have asked for a greater contrast. The chilling tones of Tapiola (an indwelling spirit of the northern forests) this wonderful but rarely played piece were starkly presented and in the Second Symphony Michael Lloyd drew playing from the orchestra which reflected the taut concentration of the symphony. Even the finale, which can sound so banal, was given a majestic sweep that engulfed us in a stirring and sonorous climax.
Two of Michael Lloyd's favourite composers topped and tailed Chandos Symphony Orchestra's November concert. Satisfying interpretations of Berlioz remain as elusive today as ever, but once more the orchestra's Music Director found the key to this difficult, original and always surprising composer, and the Overture: Les Francs-Juges, with all its quirkiness and menace, made a fine start to the concert. Strauss ended the concert with his Heldenleben, a tone poem that can outstay its welcome if the bombast of the piece is overdone. Here we had a performance of amazing virtuosity from the orchestra and one's feeling of warmth for this wonderful work was increased by an opportunity to hear the original ending. In this, rather than the whole orchestra erupting in a gigantic climax, the hero arad his helpmate (solo violin and horn) fade into the sunset in the mood of the composer's late works. He/den/eben will never be the same again for me!
Chandos's Young Musician Competition has been a feature of the orchestra's programme for some while now and Stella Hartikainen, who was the winner in 2003, appeared with the orchestra as part of her prize. She certainly impressed in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with playing that was radiantly beautiful, and in Michael Lloyd she had a conductor who provided consistently refreshing and sympathetic support.
The Chandos was on top form for last Sunday's concert with its regular conductor Michael Lloyd and leader Edward Bale.
Overture: Les Francs-Juges began in a fever of excitement as low strings gave a slight acceleration to herald a superb contingent of brass, intoning exactly in unison; timpani and percussion punctuated. Eventually the finale erupted in a tutti explosion of turbulence.
Chandos Young Musician 2003, Stella Hartikainen, was the alluring soloist in Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64 by Mendelssohn. This music suited Stella admirably and her beautiful, assured performance encompassed a perfectly placed high register, warm toned cantabile phrases and a fine first movement cadenza. Although the Chandos is a large orchestra, in this work it was never overpowering; the soloist projected clearly. Pianissimo orchestral playing in the andante was superb as Stella caressed Mendelssohn's exquisite melody, and a lively finale made a happy finish. Stella's poise and platform manner was impressive, certainly a worthy winner of the 2003 title.
A glorious assembly of ten horns and ten other brass instrumentalists as well, were powerful attributes in Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, Op 40 (performed with the original ending). In this work , the Chandos was able to show off its palette of orchestral colour and range of dramatic effect. The initial rapid, overlapping melodies of strings, horns intervening, woodwind dancing around, gorgeous orchestral harmonies and textures, high drama as trumpets sounded off-stage, a tremendous impact of theatrical rests and a wonderful recurring violin solo by Edward, as well as the inspired closing bars of solo violin and horn in duet, contributed to this significant delivery.
The Chandos faced a major problem in the run-up to its 25th anniversary concert when its soloist had to pull out because of injury a few days before the event.
Fortunately, an excellent replacement was found in Matthew Trusler, who gave a first-class interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major.
Chandos is an amateur orchestra and this last-minute change of programme could have spelt a disaster. But, the musicians rose to the challenge admirably, with their apparently unflappable conductor Michael Lloyd in command and Edward Bale leading.
In the 'Allegro', detached support from strings was given to the soloist's theme, and woodwind similarly. Trusler's cadenza with clear high notes, carefully considered decorations and accomplished double stopping was meritorious. In 'Canzonetta, Andante' a quiet melancholy pervaded as Trusler showed masterly skill in his choice of phrasing, tempi and dynamics, and his soulful theme was heard in tandem with exemplary woodwind.
The 'Finale' was exhilarating as the entire orchestra offered rapid interjections in an exciting last accelerando.
Holst's Suite: The Planets allowed this large orchestra to be heard in its entirety. In 'Mars: bringer of war' timpani beat with persistence, loud swells of sound and dissonant chords threatened. 'Venus: bringer of peace' was orchestrated lightly, with velvet smooth horns adding textural warmth. In 'Jupiter: bringer of jollity' beautiful legato playing by strings in unison presented the familiar melody of 'I vow to thee my country'. The last, 'Neptune: the mystic', ghostly in character, was marred by the voices singing off-stage. Their intonation was inaccurate and much of the harmony was missing. This spoilt the close of the concert, which had begun with the rousing music, galvanised by brass, of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1.
Perhaps this ebullient music would have made a more satisfying end?
During Sunday evening's concert, The Chandos, under their conductor Michael Lloyd (leader: Edward Bale), gave plenty of opportunity for the very large orchestra to be heard in its full kaleidoscopical range. All the works performed were rich in texture, and exciting in instrumental combinations.
Most interesting perhaps, was The Chairman Dances, a Foxtrot for Orchestra composed in 1947 by John Adams, who hails from Worcester, Massachusetts. Putting aside the operatic connections, it is a marvellous example of metronomic invention. The essential ingredient for a convincing performance is a perfectly regulated beat — no vagaries can be aflowed here — and the orchestra achieved this splendidly.
Beginning with a rhythmic throbbing from the woodwind, different groups of instruments gradually joined in, buiIding up wonderful palettes of orchestra colour.
Brass and percussion (including a resonant xylophone) were all caught up in many and varied cross-rhythms and syncopated beats. Momentum increased: it was thrilling. Eventually calmness evolved, instruments dropped oue, until a few single beats only were heard - then silence! This was a stimulating piece.
Till Eulenspigel's Merry Pranks, Richard Strauss's symphonic tone poem, its recurring French horn theme punctuating the trickstet's games, proved to be a field day for the percussion and brass.
Another symphonic poem, The Fountains of Rome by Respighi, created a highly charged atmosphere, various solos from the wood wind section and the addition of two harps produced beautifully lush orchestration. The tolling bell in conclusion was most effective.
Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, using a solo saxophone to add pathos to the second movement, campleted the programme.
Sunday's highly-creditable account of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances was a fine example of the strengths of the excellent Chandos Symphony Orchestra.
Its rich, well-nourished sound, delivered with much rhythmic verve, captured well this wonderful music's general mood of haunted elegiacness (though the tam-tam should have been left to resonate beyond the other instruments at the end). And all this is due to the CSO's alert responsiveness to its gifted conductor Michael Lloyd, his beat clear, his leads authoritative, his manner confidence-inspiring.
And that, it must be said, is what marks out orchestras such as the Chandos from so many of their amateur colleague orchestras — a conductor who makes his amateur players sound professional. What a pity, then, that the CSO cannot consistently display such justified self-belief. An heroic attempt as Strauss' vapidly virtuosic Till Eulenspiegel found the strings bottling out of the final gloss of tonal bloom, creating a distorted internal balance which made the brass sound clattery in a boxy acoustic.
Amends were made with a smashing reading of John Adams' The Chairman Dances, concentrated and gripping, textures beautifully clear. Respighi's Fountains of Rome was stirringly done too.
Two final tips: put the interval in a less daft place (it came after only half an hour) and please get away from the jokey style of programme note which tends to end up with egg on its face (it did, as anyone who knows their Rachmaninov can confirm).
Tintagel (1917), by Arnold Bax, was the imaginative curtain-raiser to the Chandos Orchestra's programme of English music.
Dramatically atmospheric, Bax uses wide varieties of instrumental combinations to produce an awe-inspiring tapestry of orchestra colour, ranging from lilting flutes, to aggressive and angry sounds with double basses adding strength and the eventual resounding cymbals and timpani.
Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem (1940), a spiritually searching and disturbing piece opens the 'Lachrymosa' with a devastating drum roll leading to the cello playing a mournful melody witk plucked double basses; there is much discordancy, and a cacophony of the entire large orchestra as in torment resolved into soulful strings.
The 'Dies Irae', rhythmic wlth staccato horns and wood-wind has interjections by a deriding saxophone, wrathful comments by the brass and percussion, before the music plummets to the ground. The 'Requiem Aeternam' of dolce flutes, solo double bass and brass leads the music into a sweeter harmony among the celestial high strings. An impressive interpretatian, allowing every section of this orchestra to show their extensive capabilities. A seductive and melodious Walk to the Paradise Garden (1901) by Delius, and then Elgar's Enigma Variations (1899) followed.
The Elgar Variations were given a most beautiful and vivid portrayal, showing considerable thought and passion. The musicians and conductor were steadfast in their commitment, and produced an emotional performance.
Much was worthy of mention: suffice it to say that Nimrod (Variation No. 9: A J Jaeger) was superb. Taken at a good pace (not dragged), with a well conserved gradual crescendo to a glorious climax, and finally the subito pianissimo.
Another concert by the Chandos and Michael Lloyd (conductor), with Edward Bale (leader) to be very proud of.
An amateur orchestra? It's hard to believe.
Audiences are notoriously conservative, so it was clever ot the Chandos Symphony Orchestra to entice the audience to its concert in the New Space with well-known works by Mendelssohn and Sibelius, anil then to surprise and delight us with two relatively unknown pieces.
The first, the Konzertstuck, by Schumann, for four horns (in effect a concerto) was inspired by the invention, in the 1830s, of the valve horn. Schumann was excited by the possibilities opened up to horn players and the result is a virtuoso romp for the four horns, particularly enjoyable in the boisterous outer mouvements. Nicky Daw and her fellow Horn Belles handled the solo parts with polish and verve.
It was refreshing to include the work of a living composer, the Estonian Arvo PÃ¤rt. His Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten of 1984 was quite stunning. Slowly cascading upper strings over sustained harmonies created a searing emotional tension as the music built up inexorably to its final resolution. This was a deeply felt and committed performance, finely controlled by the conductor, Michael Lloyd. It was good to have the chance to hear exciting new music performed so well, and in such a fine acoustic that we have now at the Theatres.
Of the remaining works, Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture wns noticable particularly for the fine playing of the woodwind soloists. The strings were a little tentative at first and lacked lustre.
The Sibelius Fifth Symphony, however, showed all sections of the orchestra at their consider- able best; the strong tone rich and assured with the difficult passage work well executed, the woodwind excellent, as ever, the brass impeccable. From the chill atmosphere at the opening, through the swirls of northern mists to the final incandescent climax, the orchestra clearly enjoyed the challenge of this demanding but rewarding music.
Chandos Symphony Orchestra begins its 20th anniversary programme this month looking to nurture young performers and encourage musical talent.
The highlight of the year will be a concert performance of La Boheme at the New Space of Malvern Theatres in November, put on with assistance from the National Lottery.
But this month will see it naming its fifth Chandos Young Musician with a competition at St Mary's Convent School, Worcester, on January 31.
The following day there will be a one-day workshop studying Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste at Ledbury Primary School.
The orchestra was formed in 1978, largely by Hugh Field-Richards, who still plays the bassoon with it. He moved from Christchurch in Dorset to work at what is now DERA, leaving behind a similar orchestra. Finding a gap in Malvern he decided to fill it, recruiting around 40 friends to launch the group.
Symphony treasurer Joy Mace, whose husband Don is the current chairman, said the orchestra had survived changes in personnel to reach its present healthy state.
"About ten years ago Peter Stark, who was the first conductor, had to leave and the people who organised it felt they could not do it any longer and it almost folded," she said.
But it survived and then began an association with the present conductor, Michael Lloyd, a former pupil of the Wells House School in Malvern who is currently senior resident conductor with the English National Opera. The orchestra has flourished, adding its young musician competition five years ago, to encourage local talent. "The orchestra has really gone from strength to strength over the last few years," said Mrs Mace, "And we are doing things which a few years ago we would not have dreamed of tackling."
Its young professional leader Edward Bale, on a post-graduate course at the Royal College of Music, is another commanding figure in its line-up.
As well as workshops the orchestra plays three concerts a year locally and is hoping to return to the Malvern Theatres, when it re-opens.
Dr Field-Richards said he was delighted with the way the orchestra had evolved and paid tribute to the work of Mr Lloyd. "It is probably one of the best amateur orchestras around here, which is nice, and it's all because of Michael really," he said. "It is a lot of fun. I believe people get a huge amount of enjoyment out it and I know the audience does."
As Conductor of the English National Opera, Michael Lloyd has reason to be proud of his achievements in the world of classical music.
But speaking ahead of his first appearance at the new Malvern Theatres this week, it was his work with the locally based Chandos Symphony Orchestra that provided a sense of pride.
Chandos continues its programme celebrating its 20th anniversary year with a concert in New Space on Sunday (May 17) but Mr Lloyd too celebrates an anniversary this year — a decade since he first became involved in the orchestra.
The pleasure of working with people who play for the love of it, without financial considerations, is a key reason the association has continued, at a time when Mr Lloyd's services are very much in demand elsewhere.
"I am very privileged to conduct with the English National Opera because they are very high quality," he said. "But it's so enjoyable to work with people who want to be there and help them enjoy themselves.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed this ten years with them and have been very pleased how they have stuck with it and grown. There is always tremendous enthusiasm and commitment."
He retains faith in the future for classical music in the area, declaring himself impressed with the amount of young talent but will lie be able to continuing to return to the town where he was a schoolboy?
"Certainly for a few years, it is very much a one conductor orchestra which is not always good but provided they are happy to see me and I can fit it into my commitments I am happy to come."
The Chandos Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and its considerable following has been waiting eagerly for the return to the New Space in the Malvern Theatres complex, for, although the Chase High School Hall has been a good standby for 18 months, concert going there always has a rather make-shift feel to it.
The foyers of the New Space are very welcoming and with last Sunday being a perfect May evening it was an added pleasure to be able to walk out onto the terrace at the interval. The improvement in the sight lines and acoustics in the auditorium are dramatic and in Brahms' Violin Concerto the audience was straight away gripped by the bright forward sound coming from the orchestra. The clarity with which the warm tone of the soloist, Krzystof Smietana, was projected was impressive and, though perhaps the sounding boards are more favourable to the wind section than the strings, this impression may have been emphasised by the strength of the principal players.
Certainly the beautifully played oboe solo in the slow movement came over with striking immediacy.
Sensitive orchestral support made this an outstanding performance and the soloist's swagger in the 'Hungarian' last movement gave the concerto a buoyant ending.
Mahler's First Symphony has one of the loveliest symphonic openings in romantic music where the sustained high strings set a mood of ethereal contemplation.
It is a test for any orchestra and the fact that Chandos came out of it so successfully augured well for the many exposed parts to come — cuckoo motifs from clarinet, bird calls from the flute, distant horn calls, Frere Jacques from solo double bass and military themes from the brilliant trumpets.
The whole symphony though, moves from youthful hopes and promise of bliss to the turmoil of an emotional crisis which is finally overcome in a triumphant conclusion.
Michael Lloyd played the symphony for all it was worth. There was unbearable intensity in his interpretation, and with magnificent support from an orchestra playing out of their skins, the angst of the complex young Mahler was hammered out by braying brass and thundering timpani. Risks galore were taken but, as the magnificent horn section — all 11 of them! — stood to blaze out their heroic theme, the symphony ended in triumph that the audience acclaimed with rapturous applause.
The charm, tenderness, passion and sheer emotional power of La Boheme has been engulfing opera house audiences for over a hundred years now, and a concert performance of burning intensity by Chandos Symphony Orchestra last Sunday gave the audience in a sold out New Space an unforgettable evening.
Such was the impact that Puccini's work of genius came over not as a tour de force of vocalism, nor as a sequence of famous arias, but as a lyric tragedy of wrenching pathos and truth.
Architect of this stunning evening was Michael Lloyd, Chandos's Music Director for the last ten years, whose professional life as Senior Resident Conductor at English National Opera ensured that the soloists for the evening were of the highest quality.
Mary Plazas' characterisation of Mimi was enchanting and her Rodolfa (John Hudson) showed himself to be a tenor of great sensitivity and passion, and his Che gelida manina — this performance was in Italian — was sung with a gloriously free and full tone.
Their long scene at the end of the first act had a melting tenderness about it and the concluding phrases (sung after the singers' exit from the hall) floated with ravishing beauty into the auditorium.
Christopher Booth Jones (Schaunard) and Clive Bayley (Colline) completed the quartet of students with singing of wonderful resonance and character — one could not hope to hear Colline's farewell to his overcoat better portrayed.
Act Two sees the entrance of Musetta, an old flame of the finely sung Marcello of Ashley Holland, and her outburst at the climax of the Cafe Momus scene, which Puccini creates with such masterly skill, was quite shattering.
Helen Williams was little short to sensational as Musetta as she portrayed in both visual and vocal terms all the flamboyance of this larger than life character.
Roger Begley, Philip Ball and Paul Thompson filled out the remaining small parts with aplomb.
Teamwork was the essence of this performance and backing up the top class professional singing was the Chandos Symphony Orchestra, an amateur band with professional attitudes who play for the fun of it, yet not once was there any need to make allowances.
The strings laid the foundation with playing of passion or tenderness as the mood dictated, and wind and brass were equally responsive. The chorus of street urchins, vendors and towns people sang their tricky parts with vigour and Michael Lloyd directed the whole with a wonderfully Italianate feel, giving the singers plenty of time to breathe and allowing the music to expand.
Altogther a quite marvellous evening of live music making!
The impressively high standard of performance, achieved over the years by what appears to be an increasingly rigorous standard of entry, has always attracted plentiful and enthusiastic audiences to the Chandos Symphony Orchestra's concerts over the last few years.
And in spite of the relatively cramped conditions of the Chase School Hall last Sunday, their programme of Wagner, Beethoven and Brahms was received by a capacity house
Wagner's Tannhauser Overture was a colourful start, with well-balanced woodwind playing, although maybe the Venusberg music needed a bit more sparkle and sensuous abandon?
This was followed by Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto in C minor, played by one of the more promising young pianists we have seen in these concerts for some time.
Philip Moore — a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition 1994 gave what I thought to be a performance of understanding and considerable depth, the tempi firmly controlled with the minimum of rubato. Excellent Beethoven playing!
Brahms' great E Minor Symphony received a suitably broad and majestic interpreta- tion under Michael Lloyd's direction. The Allegro con brio was perhaps a little lacking in delicacy at times in the accompanying figuration, but the gorgeously coloured slow movement was a delight, the Scherzo had all the required vitality, and the excitement of the closing Passacaglia was clearly felt by the musicians (sensitive flute playing in the 13th variation). Certainly an acceptable tribute in the Brahms centenary year. The orchestra was led by Donna Welchman who is sadly to leave the orchestra and whose final appearances tonight was marked by a substantial floral tribute.
It had always been a source of astonishment for me that the Chandos Symphony Orchestra achieves such a consistently high standard of performance with such limited rehearsal — which is just two weekends prior to each concert.
This plainly points to both high standards of entry and skilful, highly efficient and painstaking preparation, both of which were demonstrated in the first concert of their 1996-97 season.
The programme tended, to be much in the romantic vein — Britten's Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes, the Kindertotenlieder song cycle by Gustav Mahler and Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 in E minor.
Sea Interludes made an effective start; this is a tough item for any amateur orchestra to tackle successfully.
So it was not surprising that, for instance, Sunday Morning was a bit unstable at times, the menacing brass, however, helped to create a quite terrifying Storm!
Donald Maxwell, well known as an opera singer and concert artist, sang a noteworthy Kindertotenlieder.
His is a voice of considerable range in both colour and power and he gave us a performance which revealed the full gamut of emotions in these rather tragic songs.
The orchestra has now learned to accompany with flexible sensitivity, so the total result was most satisfying.
But the symphony was without doubt the concert's high point. This is music which is full of glowing tunes and highly-coloured orchestration, making an immediate appeal to everyone, and Michael Lloyd evoked an exciting and outstandingly satisfying performance from his players. There were many admirable things about it; the violin's well-poised hesitations in the main tune of the Allegro and the well managed tonal gradation throughout were just two of them, the audience thundering with appreciative applause, recalling conductor and bringing the orchestra repeatedly to their feet many times.
Michael Lloyd has been conductor of the Chandos for the past seven years; during that period this orchestra has been transformed under his guidance into one of the most proficient amateur groups in the Midlands, capable of tackling a large number of the biggest works in the repertory with considerable success. So it was no surprise that the programme for last Sunday's concert in the Elgar Hall consisted of Elgar's large-scale — and difficult — Symphony in A flat, the Violin Concerto of Sibelius and an overture by Verdi, all of them calling for the most demanding of musical skills.
Verdi's La Forza del Destino overture is rousing stuff to make a start with, and the crisp, well disciplined performance would have done credit to many professionals. Gonzalo Acosta, co-leader of the English National Opera Orchestra, was the soloist in a delightful Sibelius musical, confident and technically secure with the orchestra contributing its supportive and colourful role.
In the symphony, the Chandos produced a grandly-flowing first movement, a fiery scherzo and a most lyrical adagio, this music bringing to an end one of their most successful concerts so far.
Judging from the tumultuous applause at the finish, seemingly the audience also thought the playing was first class.
This orchestra seems to get better at every concert! Certainly the opening piece in its "Family" programme in the Priory Church on Saturday was quite an impressive performance from purely amateur players. Perhaps the arrival of Michael Lloyd as their regular conductor has something to do with it; he has had wide-ranging professional experience as an opera conductor in London and is lively and enthusiastic with plenty of drive.
Be that as it may — the opening bars of Beethoven's "Leonora" Overture No 3 were finely played, the nuances being sensitive and musical. The solo trumpeter also was impeccable; the opening of the coda, however, with its rushing quaver runs was by no means impeccable; but then even professional orchestras find this passage tricky, anyway.
Lloyd prefaced every item with explanatory and often humorous remarks about the music, helpful undoubtedly to the many children in the audience.
Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No 1 produced nice woodwind solos in "Morning Mood"; the strings excelled in the "Death of Ase" with musical and effective shading; "Anitra's Dance" had a pleasantly controlled rhythmic swing, and the "Hall of the Mountain King" had all the required excitement.
Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings sometimes ran into intonation difficulties, but the three Johann Strauss pieces at the end (Blue Danube Waltz; Tritsch-Tratsch Polka; and the Thunder and Lightning Polka) were played with panache! The children in the audience were invited to contribute their quota of "thunder and lightning" on tambourines, etc, by way of an encore.
The newly formed Chandos Sinfonia, an orchestra of Mozartian size composed mainly of local professional, talented amateur and student players led by Bella Holt and conducted by Peter Stark, a young member of the Welsh Philharmonia, gave its first performance in the York Hall of the Girls' College on Sunday evening.
It was an occasion of sheer delight. The programme, Dvorak's Serenade for wind instruments, 'cello and bass, Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor and Schubert's Symphony No 5 called for deftness, precision and a light touch, and the players gave us these qualities in full measure.
This was a highly accomplished and elegant performance for which much of the credit must go to the very professional and unmannered control of the conductor, who evidently knew clearly the sound he wished to produce and was able to draw it from the players in a relaxed and happy manner.
The Dvorak Serenade is a work not commonly played, but proved to be a tuneful and immediately appealing piece with some Czech flavour for eleven players which provided an unusual but entirely enjoyable opening to the concert. The solo part in the Mozart Concerto was played confidently and lyrically by John Sabey who is to be commended for the two ingenious, if at times slightly Beethoven cadenzas which he wrote for the work. The Schubert Symphony was charm throughout.
The Chandos Sinfonia plans to meet twice yearly for a series of rehearsals concentrated within a short period and concluding with a public concert. ... Let us hope that the Sinfonia will continue to meet and give concerts as attractive and accomplished as its first performance: it will clearly be as much a pleasure to play with the orchestra as a joy to listen to them.