Chandos Reviews

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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.

Christopher Morley

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.

Jill Hopkins

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.

Jim Page

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.

Christopher Morley (by permission)

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 Önaç 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.

Francis Engleheart