Chandos Reviews

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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."

David Edwards

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."

David Edwards

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.

Jill Page

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!

Jim Page.