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Milestones –Thirty Years of Chandos
ALBINONI  Oboe Concertos – Robson, Collegium Musicum 90/Standage. rec. 2000 CHAN0663
BAX  Symphony No. 4; Tintagel. - Ulster Orchestra/Thomson rec. 1983 CHAN8312
BOULANGER  Choral works - BBC Philharmonic/Tortelier rec. 1999 CHAN9745
CHOPIN Études - Louis Lortie rec. 1986 CHAN8482
DELIUS Sea Drift, Songs of Sunset; Songs of Farewell – Bryn Terfel; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox rec. 1993, CHAN9214
ELGAR  Violin Sonata/etc. - Nigel Kennedy/Peter Pettinger rec. 1984 CHAN8380
GRAINGER The Grainger Edition Vol. 1 – Grainger Orchestral Works - BBC Philharmonic/Hickox rec. 1996 CHAN9493
GRECHANINOV Passion Week - Phoenix Bach Choir/Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy rec. 2004 CHAN5044
HANDEL Chandos Anthems Vol. 1 - The Sixteen/Christophers rec. 1987 CHAN0503
HARTY An Irish Symphony etc. - Ulster Orchestra/Thomson rec. 1980-83 CHAN7034
HOLST The Planets - Scottish National Orchestra/Gibson rec. 1979 CHAN8302
HUMMEL Piano Concertos - Stephen Hough/English Chamber Orchestra/Thomson rec. 2000 CHAN9886
HUMMEL Masses Vol. 1 - CM 90/Hickox rec. 2001 CHAN0681
JANÁČEK Glagolitic Mass (Premier Recording of Original Version)
; KODÁLY Psalmus Hungaricus - Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Mackerras rec. 1994 CHAN9310
PROKOFIEV  Symphony No. 6 - Scottish National Orchestra/Järvi rec. 1984 CHAN8359
PURCELL Dido and Aeneas – Emma Kirkby, Taverner Players/Parrott rec. 1981 CHAN0521
RACHMANINOV Trios élégiaques Nos 1 and 2 - Borodin Trio rec. 1983 CHAN8341
RESPIGHI Belkis - Queen of Sheba; Metamorphoseon - Philharmonia Orchestra/Simon rec. 1985 CHAN8405
SHOSTAKOVICH  Violin Concertos – Lydia Mordkovitch (violin) Scottish National Orchestra/Järvi rec. 1989 CHAN8820
SHOSTAKOVICH  Piano Concerto No. 1; Chamber Symphony 1 op.110a. – Dmitri Shostakovich Jr/I Musici de Montréal, Maxim Shostakovich/Turovsky rec. 1984 CHAN8357
STANFORD Songs of the Sea; Songs of the Fleet; Ballad of the Fleet – Gerald Finley; BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales/Hickox rec. 2005 CHAN5043
STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier (highlights) – Yvonne Kenny; John Tomlinson; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Parry rec. 1998 CHAN3022
TCHAIKOVSKY  Symphony No. 5 - Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Jansons rec. 1984 CHAN8351
VANHAL Symphonies - London Mozart Players/Bamert rec. 1997 CHAN9607
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A London Symphony; BUTTERWORTH Banks of Green Willow - London Symphony Orchestra/Hickox rec. 2000 CHAN5001
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Film Music Vol. 1 Scott of the Antarctic - BBC Philharmonic/Gamba rec. 2002 CHAN10007
WALTON Music for the film Henry V – Christopher Plummer/Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner rec. 1990 CHAN8892
The Complete Champions - Black Dyke Mills Band/Peter Parkes rec. 1986 CHAN4509
The King’s Singers Debut Album CHAN6562
Music from the novels of Louis de Bernières  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and the ‘Latin’ Trilogy - Craig Ogden/Alison Stephens rec. 1999 CHAN9780
CHANDOS ANNI 0030 [30 CDs – circa 26:00:00]
Experience Classicsonline

 

I cannot say that ‘it seems only yesterday that Chandos first appeared on the scene’. In 1979 – thirty years ago - I had been working for just one year for Plymouth City Council – my first job since qualifying. I recall going for a walk one lunchtime and seeing a Chandos display in the window of W.H. Smiths on one of the wide main streets. This was before pedestrianisation of that fine windy city of the South-West. The launch is also tied up in my memory with the disappearance of Cis Amaral’s music magazine, Records and Recordings which flashed out of existence at about the same time - give or take a year.

Brian and Ralph Couzens approach to this limited edition box is explained in the MusicWeb International interview but in essence it involves ensuring representation for the nodal points in the history of the company: prize-winners, firsts, key collaborations, technical and artistic triumphs. They had plenty to choose from and the process of sifting must have been challenging, made all the more so by having to leave all out all multi-CD sets.

This agreeably dumpy box is for inveterate bargain hunters (30 CDs for £29.60) and those who cannot resist limited production collectors editions. It also suits very well the market for young enthusiasts who have just discovered classical music, are still open-minded and unaware of boundaries in their journey of discovery. If there are still copies of the box in the shops in the run-up to Christmas 2009 it should be in great demand. It’s the sort of thing that you will kick yourself for not having tracked down at the time – a bit like Patrick Waller's DG Messiaen Edition.

The difficulty with this box for other collectors is that those of us who have been around a while will already have the ones we wanted on our shelves. I have and know seven of the thirty already. Of these seven, two discs are personal and memorable landmarks: Bax 4 and Prokofiev 6.

Bax's Fourth as recorded by Bryden Thomson was the first of Chandos's numerous Bax progeny. It remains among their most vigorous and ruddily vital entries. I recall it both as an LP and a cassette. In those dim and distant days the advertisements in Gramophone often referred to all three media. This recording remains a great version. Thomson is unerring with his Ulster Orchestra as he was with them in two more collections of Bax tone poems. The sails of the Bax project lost the breeze somewhat when Thomson and Chandos moved to London. But my, how fine this version is! Still a resoundingly convincing first choice.

I must then mention Järvi's Prokofiev 6 with the then SNO; later to be the RSNO. Järvi's reign in Glasgow took the RSNO into the international league. This disc was my first CD purchase from the HMV shop in Plymouth. It was soon in my Philips CD101 - a player that kept failing and which limited my CD purchases until in 1988 after a ‘more in sadness’ letter to the MD at Philips Eindhoven was replaced with a completely new CD604 – a then up-to-date machine which still plays faultlessly to this day.

Järvi's Prokofiev 6 is gritty, determined and chilly. The three waltzes from Waltz Suite op. 110 are plucked from Cinderella and one from War and Peace. They luminously exemplify the sweeping ‘psychological’ waltz. There were to be many more Prokofiev discs from RSNO/Järvi. Only yesterday I was delighted to be listening to the brand new Järvi version of On Guard for Peace which was recorded as recently as 2008.

As for the Delius I commend strongly the softly tender Sea Drift with a young pre-A-list Bryn Terfel in golden voice. Hickox would go on to do a lot more Delius for Chandos and had already done several extremely fine Delius Bournemouth discs for EMI. He would go on to involve himself in many other British music series for Chandos - an astonishing number. Bax seemed to interest him hardly at all but many other composers of the years 1900-1960 were on his list.

Hickox presided over the orchestral chapters of the landmark 18 CD Grainger Chandos series - the greatest ever attempt at documenting this torrentially creative composer. The standout track for me on volume 1 of his orchestral discs is Green Bushes with its fast rhythmic foot-tapping exhilaration married with dreamy asides.

MusicWeb International reviewed volume 1 of the RVW Film Music series in November 2002. There were to be two more volumes (vol. 2; vol. 3) and - who knows - perhaps more to come. Gamba is lucid and exciting. The shame is that the titles of individual cues in this 27 track CD are denied us. Perhaps the thing to do is to go to The Classical Shop website and download the booklets but be ready for an untidy stack of paper.

Hickox is also represented by his recording of the original version of RVW's A London Symphony – fascinating and with a too easily overlooked and eclipsed Banks of Green Willow, plangently done. He also recorded all the other RVW symphonies apart from 7 and 9. I hope that Chandos will be able to track down broadcast tapes made by Hickox to complete the set of nine. This will complement Chandos's first 1980s set of the complete RVW symphonies from the redoubtable Bryden Thomson. It will also be a match for Hickox’s modern recordings of many of the RVW operas including the enchanting The Poisoned Kiss. It is such a shame that he never got to record the Holst operas: The Perfect Fool and Sita.

Turning momentarily from British music let's look at that very early entrant Geoffrey Simon and the Philharmonia in Respighi's Belkis and Metamorphoseon. The former is grandiloquent and a shade bombastic. I love it - try the Dansa Guerresca. The latter is rather more dignified and reserved in the undulating manner of his Concerto gregoriano. Simon went on to found Cala where there are several more Respighi discs. Also let us not forget his superb Chandos recording of Church Windows.

Back to the British Isles with Harty's Irish Symphony. It’s an early successor to the Chandos Harty Violin Concerto with Ralph Holmes. The Symphony is entertaining and it's no wonder that its second movement, The Fair Day has made a separate existence for itself. Personally I rather wish Chandos had chosen the overpoweringly beautiful recording they made of Harty's Ode to a Nightingale and The Children of Lir with the matchless Heather Harper in supreme form. That was a disc for the hall of fame – and still is. It's still to be had as part of a 3CD set on Chandos CHAN10194; previously CHAN(7035(3). Not to be missed: trust me.

Gibson's SNO Planets was the first digital outing for Holst's suite. Soon after that EMI and the very elderly Boult were on the case but the Couzens’ version is still notable and the sound impresses to this day. Gibson contributed a healthy Sibelius series to Chandos and it has survived in their catalogue when other Chandos espousals of the repertoire (Segerstam) have not. Gibson predated Järvi and has made something of a coup with his early advocacy for Sibelius on Saga with symphonies 3 and 6 – then, in the 1960s, a very rare adventure.

The Albinoni Oboe Concertos are most graciously done. They are accorded full-lipped tone from Anthony Robson and recorded with fruity immediacy.

Lili Boulanger's choral works caused quite a stir when they were issued by Chandos with the BBC Phil's then new conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier. Those jagged abrasive fanfares contrasted with the honeyed choral singing. The recording continues to impress in the grandly portentous Psalm 130 - Du fond de l'abime.

Lortie's Chopin opp. 10 and 25 Etudes emphasised the grand and phantastical aspects of the cycle but still had sufficient repose to move – for example in op. 10 No. 3.

The very young Nigel Kennedy's Elgar music for violin and piano continues to hold a cherished place in the Chandos catalogue. I love his tone in the Canto Popolare, usually heard with viola. Don’t overlook Sospiri which sounds even better in Kennedy’s hands than in the version with orchestra. Kennedy went on to become a phenomenon. He has shaken the stiff-necked concert world as well as bestriding the jazz and rock worlds. More recently his two enthralling versions of the Elgar concerto have returned to availability and his recordings of Polish romantic Violin Concertos including those by Karłowicz and Mlynarski on EMI are well worth your attention if you have so far overlooked them. In the more modest Elgar violin and piano stakes his playing is stunning artistically and technically.

Chandos recorded all the Grechaninov symphonies as well as much else by this neglected Russian. I never got to hear his version of Passion Week. Here it is sung with great concentration and idiomatic commitment by the Phoenix Bach Choir and the Kansas City Chorale. You should enjoy this if you take to Rachmaninov's Vespers and Liturgy of St John Chrysostom as you will if you know and love the Tchaikovsky Liturgy. The tender supplication of At Thy Musical Supper is magically poised and paced.

Volume 1 of Handel's Chandos Anthems is from prime exponents of the repertoire. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen are sensitive and imbue this music with dignity and springy life. The soloists are all safe hands drawn from several generations. We should not forget the tasteful and lissom contributions by the principals of The Sixteen Orchestra and the clean and vibrato-free singing by the soloists in For the Lord is Gracious from the first anthem (tr. 6).

Hummel achieves two CDs from among the thirty. The first offers his two piano concertos opp. 85 and 89 with the poised and masterful Stephen Hough - soon to jump ship to Hyperion. These performances and the recording cocoon make much of the romantic ante-room inhabited by these concertos. On vol. 13 in this box we hear the Hummel Masses opp. 111 and 77. These have been edited by Stephen Hogger who also stood similar service for the RVW film music volumes. These smoothly devotional and joyously exuberant and vibrant works are given convincing advocacy by Richard Hickox.

For me a standout in these thirty volumes is vol. 14. I had not heard this disc before. It features Janáček's Glagolitic Mass and Kodály's Psalmus Hungaricus. The Danish Radio forces are conducted by that great Janáček authority Sir Charles Mackerras whose early eminence in this field I was reminded of recently in hearing again his stunning Pye-originated recording of the Sinfonietta. Gaunt, mysterious, superbly orchestrated, gothically wild and startlingly clearly orchestrated and laid out for voices. The Kodály Psalmus Hungaricus is vibrant and pregnant with tension. Peter Svensson is the fine defiant tenor.

This Purcell Dido and Aeneas is generally acknowledged as among the finest in the catalogue and it has held its position against robust and numerous competitors. The superbly recorded orchestra and soloists, especially Emma Kirkby and Judith Nelson, have laid the foundations for a continuing eminence for this set. It is a shame that there are no track details but let’s keep this in perspective. After all the price of this set is scarcely over thirty pounds - that is about a pound a disc. You might well think it worthwhile doing your own research on the internet to make up for the lack of notes or going to the Chandos site and downloading the booklets without charge.

Chandos had a longstanding recording relationship with the Borodin Trio and the circle around Rostislav Dubinsky and Yuli Turovsky. The two early Trio Elégiaques by Rachmaninov are part of the early harvest of that collaboration. Two passionately soulful yet dignified and feelingly authoritative performances result.

Järvi's name runs like a golden thread through the Chandos catalogue. His prize-winning way with the Shostakovich two concertos with Lydia Mordkovich. They are both adept exponents and these performances have plenty of Soviet paprika and gutsy abandon as well as desolation. For the outgoing side try the extravert Burlesque of the First Concerto.

I mentioned the Borodin Trio and Dubinsky and Turovsky earlier. The latter conducts I Musici de Montreal in a typically big Chandos recording of the composer's grand-son playing the Shostakovich First Concerto with Maxim conducting. I rather wish that they had persuaded Shostakovich petit fils to record the Second Concerto at the same time but instead we hear the Chamber Symphony op.110a - the up-scaled String Quartet No. 8. It's a deeply potent recording as the steely razor blade and resonant pizzicato of the Allegretto go to demonstrate. Demonstration quality playing and recording with super dynamic contrast and fluent travel from ppp to fff.

Gerald Finley is called on to do the honours in three Stanford song and choral celebrations of the ocean. The litmus work is the Songs of the Sea and generations of baritones form a cloud of witnesses. It's well done by Finley though not as intoxicatingly as in some versions I have heard. Finley characterises with some relish and vocal colour. He trounces Stanford's and Newbolt’s tongue-twisters and projects a fine ring to the voice in The Old Superb.

Another award-winner, intoxicatingly done is the almost eighty minutes of highlights from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. One knows something special is in the making when one hears the whoopingly priapic horn-floated opening. This is a famed component of the Chandos Opera in English series. The recording is stunning both in the delivery of exultant music and in the slivery magic Strauss spins throughout this masterly ecstatic score - lofty and earthy all at once. It is a pity that the sleeve does not even give the individual track titles. Again purchasers must as ever look at the going price for such riches and weigh outlay against advantage.

The Chandos Tchaikovsky symphony cycle from Jansons and the Olso Phil has become a byword in the industry. Presumably the set still sells well as a box (CHAN 10392) and as individual discs CHAN 8402, 8460, 8463, 8361, 8351, 8446 and 8535 (the latter being Manfred). This Fifth is another strong contender having a great sense of unified power and rushing emotion. The braying deep brass in the finale are well worth experiencing. That big grown-up Chandos sound is well and truly there as you might expect. Its lineage, more than ever, strikes me as Decca rather than RCA although I shall always associate the Couzens' work with RCA. It is one of their finest efforts along with what they did for Polydor-DG with Norman Del Mar and the RPO for Elgar’s Enigma and P&C.

The Chandos Vanhal Symphonies with Harry Blech's London Mozart Players is part of a revelatory series of “Contemporaries of Mozart” led by Matthias Bamert. It has done much to broaden knowledge of the strong voices around Mozart. Vanhal’s is well served here.

One of the cornerstones of the Chandos catalogue is their complete Walton Edition which they issued individually and as a staggeringly large and expensive box; the latter no longer in their catalogue it seems. It is represented here by the Christopher Palmer Henry V realisation with crystal clarity and muscular subtlety. Plummer is in impressive Olivier mode and yet Gielgud took the other Shakespeare discs Hamlet and Richard III. The music emerges as never before but for the real grit of the original give me the EMI version with Olivier and Walton. The emulation of the shivering cloud of Agincourt arrows forms an exhilarating climactic moment.

Brass band music has always been a component of the Chandos catalogue and you can hear them on cracking form with the Black Dyke Mills and Peter Parkes in George Lloyd's so-so Royal Parks. It suffers from the enervation and anonymity that settled on many of Lloyd’s works written in his last and ironically most materially successful phase. I have recently been revelling in a Gilbert Vinter collection - complete with faintly distressed sound - from the golden age of Pye’s band recording projects. It was good to encounter the composer again in Salute to Youth. It’s a blast and no mistake - try the last section called Relaxation. Finally we are treated to McCabe's atmospheric Cloudcatcher Fells - tougher by far than the other works but well worth the effort in a genre sometimes rather thin in musical sustenance.

Sweetly and innocently middle of the road are the thirteen tracks of The King's Singers disc. This group was recorded for the first time by the Couzens team. The Shenandoah is done in Bach aria mode and later there’s dozy and sultry Summer-time. Wives and Lovers is a bit cheesy and but perhaps that’s the point. The intimacy and innocence with a wink is accentuated by the wound which is close-up with a toweringly virile balance. At 36:38 it’s all over quite quickly reflecting the disc’s vinyl origins. The instrumentals are by the Gordon Langford Trio.

The final disc is the successful anthology of music deployed in Louis de Bernière’s books – primarily Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Here the players are Craig Ogden (guitar) and Alison Stephens (mandolin). The sweetest tracks include the Hummel’s Mandolin Concerto. The most tangy is the Persichini's Polcha variata where the instrument might almost be a zither. Palumbo's catchy Petite Bolero is well worth discovering or rediscovering. This is a disc that transcends the hook on which it is hung. There is graceful music at every turn, every track.

What you lose is the extensive booklet notes and texts and translations. There are no notes at all. All you get is a track-listing – sometimes not even that - on the back of each light card sleeve inside the box. Don’t get your hopes up the booklets in the box include a full 2009 catalogue and a slender festschrift in honour of Chandos 30.

What you get is an astonishing bargain box cutting a swathe through Chandos’s award and prize winning disc. The overall design of the individual discs is consistent across the thirty but the sleeves mimic the appearance of the originals. The best of Chandos over the last thirty years. Much more than a memento. If you began your classical collection with this box you would count yourself blessed in years to come.
 
Rob Barnett
 



 


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