Chandos Reviews

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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.

Christopher Morley

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.

Jim Page

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.

Jim Page

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.

Jill Hopkins