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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
version with Olivier and Walton. The emulation of the
shivering cloud of Agincourt arrows forms an exhilarating
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
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