Chandos Reviews

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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.

Jill Hopkins

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.

Christopher Morley

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.