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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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CHANDOS – Happy Thirtieth In 2009

 

Musicweb International has reason to celebrate Chandos and we did so for the first time in our earliest days in 1998 for their then impending twentieth anniversary with two extensive sets of reviews (page 1 & page 2).
 
We do so again now and plan to do so again in 2019 for their fortieth and in 2029 for their half century.
 
As a label their form is in the top quartile. Time after time they produce splendid discs that hold the catalogue and more to the point hold a place in the affections.
 
Chandos remain in rude and productive health with a monthly release catalogue packed with revelation and adventure for enthusiasts of all ‘classical’ genres: from medieval to avant-garde, from Scandinavian modern to Soviet nostalgia, from British musical renaissance to the new romanticism, from golden age opera to Russian dissidence, from contemporaries of Beethoven and Mozart to the great Shibboleths of the high romantic era. I have only scratched the surface.
 
The history of Chandos Records Ltd, based these many years in Colchester, Essex, takes us back thirty years to 1979. You find their name in the Gramophone of that era in what we now know to have been the last days of the vinyl Pompei. A British business, its illustrious name is inextricably bound up with the Couzens family. It was Brian Couzens who founded the company and it is in may ways his life work. He has dedicated himself to making an audio reality of the great known and the great neglected. He has changed the face of the catalogue and the breadth and depth of choice available for music-lovers everywhere. Curiosity can now in so many cases be slaked with actual recordings and much of that is due to Chandos.
 
After completing National Service Brian Couzens worked as a composer and arranger for the BBC and others. Later he worked on orchestrations for films including Where Eagles Dare, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, 633 Squadron and more than thirty other films. The latter aspect may explain the burgeoning Chandos Movies series which remains in hearty production. Brian’s son Ralph is now the Chandos Managing Director.

While known for their original recordings Chandos also have a sideline in striking advantageous compacts with audio copyright-holders here and there. Their illustrious Russian ex-Melodiya collaborations have resulted in vital clean reissued recordings including Boris Tchaikovsky’s Sebastopol Symphony, the superb Prokofiev Semyon Kotko and The Story of a Real Man operas and the first and incomplete Shostakovich string quartet cycle by the Borodins. More recently a deal with the BBC has produced Reginald Goodall’s fabled Mastersingers - a 4-CD set re-mastered from a BBC Radio live broadcast from Sadler's Wells Theatre on 10 February 1968. The cast includes Alberto Remedios, Derek Hammond-Stroud and Norman Bailey. This now stands as the fiftieth issue in Chandos’s Opera in English line launched in 1990 and produced in an enlightened collaboration with the Peter Moores Foundation.
 
Brian Couzens started out with RCA. Indeed a number of Chandos early productions seem to have been issued by RCA - try the Leon Goossens recital disc. I have never quite managed to identify exactly what that relationship was but it was a transient part of the label’s genesis. Even today that heritage can be heard in many of their early Alexander Gibson Sibelius recordings (1977-1983) which still jostle competitively for the connoisseur recommendation. That their place in the sun was temporarily obscured by a mid-1990s Sibelius cycle with Leif Segerstam (now on Brilliant Classics) has not diminished their analogue virtues. The recordings of Nielsen by the Athena Wind ensemble are part of that late 1970s heritage as is the two disc set of the very early and immature Elgar music for little wind ensemble. They still hold their place.
 
From the very beginning Chandos asserted and then held onto and nurtured the highest standards. They used digital masters to luxurious effect – lucid and never stifling in the case of their very best productions. I mention two the success of which was both satisfying and startling. In the 1980s Bryden Thomson – until then a denizen of the BBC regional orchestras – was chosen to lead the Bax revival. His LP recordings with the Ulster Orchestra of the Bax Fourth Symphony and of two collections of tone poems turned the tables on neglect and cannily caught the rotation in public tastes back to melodious opulence. If the Thomson-conducted LPO recordings of the first two symphonies seemed densely recorded Thomson produced splendid first modern recordings of Bax’s Winter Legends and the Violin Concerto with the supremely enterprising Lydia Mordkovich – herself a mainstay of the label whose name winds in and out of almost every series Chandos has embraced. On the Bax front let it not be forgotten that no other company has recorded the craggy and tragically beauteous Bax Piano Quintet.
 
From the mid to late 1980s we also need to recall the Chandos Prokofiev project with the redoubtable Neeme Järvi and the Scottish National Orchestra – later the RSNO. That partnership put Glasgow on the artistic map as Michael Tumelty’s reviews in the Glasgow Herald of those days made clear. Chandos recorded the Estonian Järvi with the SNO in Estonian symphonies and in a mass of Prokofiev though the latter never reached as far as the complete Eugene Onegin music or the lesser known film music – shame! While in Glasgow he also tackled major Shostakovich and a well thought of sequence of Strauss tone poems. Even when he cut his ties with Glasgow Chandos followed him to Detroit to record some ten rare American orchestral classics CDs delving back into territory once, in the late 1960s,  the domain of Karl Kruger and the Society for the Promotion of the American Musical Heritage. Järvi was also recorded by Chandos in the four Schmidt symphonies though only one of these was with the  Detroit band.
 
The Mariss Jansons Tchaikovsky symphony recordings with the Oslo Phil quickly became a recorded music classic and as a set (CHAN 10392) retains its place at the head of most recommendation lists to this day. They too were first issued as LPs in that long lost era but soon found new and remarkably sustained and acclaimed life on CD.
 
Then there are strange outcrops such as the gloriously unreconstructed readings of the Rachmaninov piano concertos by Earl Wild and Jascha Horenstein with the RPO. These originally appeared on Reader’s Digest LPs and have since been picked up by Chesky in the USA. However these recordings are still available via Chandos and so they should be.
 
Then there are relics of the LP era such as the Terence Judd box issued once but never reissued on CD – at least not by Chandos (see note). Also how about the lauded but now forgotten Willem von Otterloo Sydney Symphony Beethoven symphonies issued in LP box form by Chandos circa 1980. Chandos and others thought it well worth issuing this despite the fact that the recently deceased Otterloo had recorded only part of the cycle of nine.
 
Chandos have in general proved very loyal to their artists and projects. Until Lyrita galloped back into the fray in 2007 Chandos held the British music laurels. No other company in the period produced such a deluge of fine quality recordings. Bax in profusion – no fewer than two Symphony cycles - Thomson first then Handley - the latter fulfilling a dream: both ours and Handley’s. Richard Hickox recorded the complete eleven Rubbra symphonies and even issued them as a complete boxed set. There was plenty of Elgar with Thomson and Hickox. Hickox essayed the complete Dyson with a number of extremely expensive works including the much demanded Canterbury Pilgrims and later the even more impressive Quo Vadis and the spectacular Nebuchadnezzar. Hickox is also part way through a very idiosyncratic RVW symphony cycle which parallels the finished cycle by Bryden Thomson but includes rare versions of the symphonies and of other unrecorded works – any chance that they will tackle the early tone poem The Solent and the incomplete Cello Concerto? Handley also recorded the first complete sequence of Stanford symphonies issued at much the same time as Chandos also issued the Parry symphonies with Mathias Bamert. Characteristically Handley – in this context an export from Hyperion - was given the much prized project of the first recording of Bantock’s Omar Khayyam.

Earlier this year they followed it up with another iconic ‘unknown’, Foulds’ World Requiem. Chandos tackled in still-unmatched span the works of William Alwyn. Theirs was the second cycle of Alwyn symphonies after the composer’s 1970s one with Lyrita. Since then we have had a third cycle from Naxos and David Lloyd-Jones who are also echoing the Stanford symphonies. Philip Sainton, Patrick Hadley, Edgar Bainton and Hubert Clifford and JB McEwen – where do we stop – have all had the Chandos treatment. Their Walton Edition with Thomson and Marriner has been issued in a prestigious complete box but can still be had in single CDs. Their Grainger series is breathtaking in its prodigious compass and is a profound cultural reference. Their Williamson series promises and already delivers much. It is a sign of unblinkered openness and fine judgement that they have chosen to do this with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Can we hope for Williamson’s spectacular and celebratory Mass of Christ the King – epic in expression and in its forces? And while we are in ambitious mode how about that singably fine and philosophically irresistible choral-orchestral setting of The Hound of Heaven by Maurice Jacobson.
 
Their loyalty to quixotic quests has extended to a wondrous series with Geoffrey Tozer of Medtner recordings running to approaching ten volumes of solo piano music, the three piano concertos and some of the lieder including a CD which includes a valuable slice of Medtner’s vocalise works. It really is time that they launched  a systematic intégrale of the Medtner lieder.
 
Chandos now turn to Joseph Marx with a piano music CD already issued and a major-choral orchestral one in the offing. I hope that they can be persuaded to record Marx’s stunning Herbstsymphonie. I can think of few companies who have the resource to make the definitive first recording of this voluptuous lyrically and epically effusive canvas. They are doing and have done much the same thing with such other diverse and neglected composers as Frank Martin, Tansman and Weinberg. Now how about some unrecorded Converse, E B Hill (impressionistic American orchestral works), Farwell (a sprawlingly impressive symphony), Hovhaness (still more than a few of the 66 symphonies remain unrecorded), Cuclin, Ivanovs, Shtogarenko, Peiko and Sabaneyev.
 
As a company they have rarely put a foot wrong and their artistic, design and technical standards are a byword. Their programme notes have helped make the literature in that genre something that merits inclusion in all mature bibliographical listings.
 
The company has since 2005 provided a website from which one can download MP3s and high quality lossless recordings of its current catalogue and its classic archive. They have found their own way and have stood clear of massive reissues at budget price – what would their collected Bax box look like, I wonder, with upwards of thirty CDs. I am not sure we will ever get to know as they do not seem to be into that sort of sales development … yet. When they do it will set the cat amongst the pigeons. Until now that tendency seems to be expressed through the licensing of their early output to Brilliant Classics.
 
There is so much cause to celebrate with this label. There’s every sign that Chandos will continue vigorous and in as good heart as ever.
 
Rob Barnett
Classical Editor
MusicWeb International

Note
I was too quick to state that Chandos had deleted their Terence Judd recordings. There are in fact some four items in their current catalogue:-
CHAN9913 Tchaikovsky & Prokofiev: Piano Concertos
CHAN9914 In Memory Of Terence Judd
CHAN10004 Terence Judd: Homage I
CHAN10150 Terence Judd: Homage II

Other Chandos 30th anniversary-related articles
An interview with Brian and Ralph Couzens (Chandos) by Rob Barnett
Chandos Records - Press Release
Chandos Records - A Short History
 


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