Chandos Reviews

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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.

Jill Hopkins

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.

Christoher Morley