Chandos Reviews

We try and keep a list of reviews of our concerts. We rely on people sending us the review so if you have one that is not listed here please contact us. All the reviews are copyright the original listed publication. To see the concert that the review refered to, click on the date.


The Chandos orchestra never shrinks from a challenge, and after their last concert of light music this programme of "Russian and German giants" presented an evening at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.

By the time Shostakovich came to write his Second Cello Concerto he was at the end of his psychological tether. The conflicts between his public face as a Soviet composer and his interior world as a creative artist had become almost too much to bear.

As cello soloist David Cohen said in his perceptive remarks to the audience, this concerto is not a dialogue but a fight between the soloist and the orchestra. The conflict was set at the start with the lamentations of the cello set against the very Russian darkness of double basses and cellos, and then the sinister tones of low woodwind and contrabassoon.

Throughout this tragic and bitter piece all attempts by the orchestra to rouse the soloist from his introspection were short lived. Even the macabre faster central movement descended from would-be optimism into jeering woodwind lines and deformed brass fanfares. The emotional and technical demands were more than met by the orchestra, conducted with cool precision by Alice Farnham.

Cohen was a masterful soloist, absolutely commanding throughout, whether playing quietly or battling against the many outbursts of the large percussion section. In the finale the sense of anguish was palpable as the few recurring moments of orchestral warmth were extinguished, leaving the soloist with his defiant final sustained note.

Rachmaninov's First Symphony ended the concert. Here we were on more familiar stylistic ground although this work too gives the sense of emotion suppressed. In this meticulously marshalled performance the polished strings seized all of their opportunities. Romantic phrases were lovingly shaped, while the fugue had a terrific rhythmic precision. The lightness of the scherzo delighted, the splashes of percussive colour perfectly gauged, and the woodwind excelled in the slow movement with the two clarinets billing and cooing at its close. The finale, with its brilliant brass fanfares, had a real sense of momentum, and if this was not quite enough to provide a total resolution of the conflicts along the way this was the young Rachmaninov's fault, rather than the conductor's.

This concert was an emotional journey that will live in the memories of those who heard it for a long time.

John Francis

CHANDOS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA was again in fine form on 15th November in Malvern Theatres. Conducting the orchestra for the first time, Alice Farnham opened with Wagner's masterly Tannhäuser overture, which was played with the utmost virtuosity and conviction. Her reading vividly captured the mood of the piece. The string tone was rich, the brass mellow, and the sensuousness of the drunken revels of the Bacchantes arresting.

After this wonderful opening, the riches became even greater in Shostakovich's haunting, but essentially lyrical, Second Cello Concerto. Unlike the First Concerto, the Second has never established itself in the regular repertoire, but, in the hands of the masterly David Cohen, its eloquence and beauty shone through. David brought out the smiling melancholy of the piece, and eloquently expressed the composer's troubled thoughts. The orchestra's playing was nothing short of brilliant, with a succession of tricky solos carried off with panache.

The concert concluded with Rachmaninov's First Symphony, where Alice Farnham's rapport with Russian music was again impressive. There was real poetic vision here, and with the large orchestra responding with sonority and precise articulation, a genuinely tragic and heroic performance resulted.

Jim Page

New bassoon concertos don't appear all that often, and ones with added jazz are even more unusual. So the long-awaited world premiere of Robert Farnon's Romancing the Phoenix was something of a coup for the Malvern-based Chandos Symphony Orchestra.

This 100-strong amateur ensemble, which for 21 years has been directed by Michael Lloyd, a professional conductor of varied and international experience, plays to a very high standard and at times could easily be mistaken for a full-time professional orchestra.

Such was the case on this occasion, with Lloyd firmly in control of the material and his players responsive and at ease on what must have been very unfamiliar ground.

Completed only weeks before Farnon's death in 2005, the concerto is a three-movement work for solo bassoon, full orchestra and a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums. It was written for and dedicated to the American bassoonist Daniel Smith, a multi-talented performer equally adept in classical music, jazz and crossover. And it's these qualities that shape and inform the music.

However, there were times during the opening Andante Moderato when the combination of forces seemed uneasy. The bassoon sounded too strongly amplified, which robbed Smith's cantabile of some of it lyricism, while much of his jazz inflected note-bending, elegiac enough in its way, lay uncomfortably against Farnon's lush string scoring. But when the music lifted off into brass-led big band territory, with bass and drums stompingly prominent, everything fell into place and one could appreciate the necessity for amplification.

The slow movement also started reflectively, if rather aimlessly, again reserving its best moment – with the soloist pitted against full brass – until the end.

As did the finale, although there were excitements along the way, including full-blown and quite punchy improvised choruses by Smith and his jazz partners, Sean Whittle (piano), Russell Swift (bass) and Steve Smith (drums.)

For me the work's high spot came in the concluding bars, with a flying scamper of bassoon and orchestral woodwind culminating in a glorious Mahlerian tam-tam clang. It was the sort of uninhibited, hair-raising effect we could have had a lot more of earlier.

One wonders how eager other bassoonists will be to perform Romancing the Phoenix. If it is to enter the repertory (publishers Warner/Chappell obviously hope so) it will need sympathetic handling by all concerned — and much better sound management than we heard in Malvern.

David Hart

Intense rehearsals allotted for this "chalk and cheese" concert doubtless left little time for Elgar's Cockaigne Overture. Unhelpful acoustics gave massive string forces a curiously soft edge which could have translated more romantically for the typical Edwardian nobilmente passages.

Woodwind tuning eventually settled adding to splendid brass. However, totally inaudible/invisible sleigh bells disappointed in London's horse-drawn scenery, colour and drama surely being percussion's raison d'être?

Classical contrast came with Beethoven's Violin Concerto played by Edgar Bailey, winner of the Chandos Young Musician Competition 2007. Here is an emergent musician of interesting potential but needing more maturity for this challenging work. A neat accuracy throughout was admirable, his sweet tone eventually flowering into more passion in the cadenzas. Pizzicato accompaniment was somewhat ragged in the lovely interpretation of the slow movement, but thankfully the initial tempo of the finale eventually gathered momentum, although the soloist could indulge in far wider dynamics particularly in the passages less obscured by the enthusiastic orchestra.

From the very first haunting tones of the magical opening solo bassoon this enormous assembly of committed amateur musicians certainly delivered the goods for Stravinsky. His Rite of Spring is a scary challenge, but one would be hard pressed to better the dedication in this performance, passionately directed by conductor Miachael Lloyd. No passengers could weather the brutal fortimissimo taut string chords — truly hair-raising — with everyone concentrating and giving their all. A triumphant performance, but with a rider for more barbaric ferocity from the two sets of timpani, please.

Maggie Cotton

Central to this concert was the performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major with Edgar Bailey as soloist. He was winner of the Chandos Young Musician Competition 2007, part of the prize being the chance to perform a concerto with the orchestra.

Michael Lloyd was conducting, encouraging and supportive as ever and together a most satisfying delivery was accomplished. After a lengthy orchestral introduction during which Edgar waited with assurance, he entered with his own long solo. His highest notes were beautiful and finely tuned, and his low register was richly honey-toned.

An intense orchestral section with fabulous lower strings prefaced Edgar's exposed cadenza. The slow movement revealed splendid woodwind and brass episodes and alternation of the lyrical theme with the soloist until everyone launched whole-heartedly into the final Rondo of rhythmic exchanges.

This was a jolly good effort from Edgar and much enjoyed by the large audience.

The concert had opened with a noble interpretation of ELgar's Overture Cockaigne, expressive and with occasional clashes of cymbals, timpani and glorious brass, and concluded with The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. The huge orchestra was in its element as it created a magnificent theatrical effect from the imaginative and fervent score, using the whole gamut of instrumentation.

Jill Hopkins