Milestones – 30 Years of Chandos

Written by: Colin Anderson

May 2009 brings the 30th-birthday of Chandos – “The thirty CDs in this box set have been carefully selected because they represent, each in its own way, the very best of the Chandos catalogue.”

CHANDOS ANNI 0030(30)


The Chandos story is simply told in the documentation that accompanies this box of assorted delights, one that gives a flavour of the Chandos catalogue built-up by Brian Couzens and his son Ralph over three decades. In May 2009, Chandos has issued 30 recordings and presented them in a sleeve that reproduces the original cover. There are no booklet notes, but these can be downloaded for free from Chandos’s website, which is fair enough given the give-away price of the box, but recording dates and locations should surely have been mandatory as part of the box’s documentation.

It must have been invidious to make a choice of a mere 30 titles from what is now an imposing catalogue (full details of which come in this box). Whether a seasoned collector or someone new to such joys, this is an appealing box. Nice to have as a souvenir – one favourably priced (30 CDs for the price of 3) – as to what Chandos has achieved over the years, and for anyone knew to the very broad church that is ‘classical music’, then this selection could prove a matchless collection in terms of eclecticism, one that could open up a voyage of discovery.

There are oboe concertos by Albinoni (1671-1751) with Anthony Robson and Collegium Musicum 90, Bax’s Fourth Symphony (an English composer, 1883-1953, that Chandos has done so much for – in choosing Bryden Thomson’s recording, Chandos revives its first Gramophone Award-winning recording). Across the English Channel, now, for music by Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier; music of substance and beauty.

Paris is an ideal cue for Chopin, his complete Études (opuses 10 and 25 plus Trois Nouvelles Études) was an early success for pianist Louis Lortie. Bryn Terfel was also on the outset of his career when he took place in these recordings of Delius’s Sea Drift and Songs of Sunset, conducted by Richard Hickox with the Bournemouth Symphony orchestra, and with the addition of Songs of Farewell. And Chandos can claim Nigel Kennedy’s first recording, an Elgar collection including the Violin Sonata and favourites such as Salut d’Amour, Chanson de Nuit and Chanson de Matin.

Hickox features again, this time in the first release that launched Chandos’s complete Percy Grainger survey, a selection of orchestral pieces with the BBC Philharmonic; then there’s Grechaninov’s Passion Week with Phoenix Bach Choir and Kansas City Chorale; and a selection from Handel’s Chandos Anthems was of course unavoidable (with Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra).

To another realm and Hamilton Harty’s An Irish Symphony and A Comedy OvertureBryden Thomson officiating – and nipping to north of the border brings us Holst’s The Planets with Sir Alexander Gibson and the (pre-Royal) Scottish National Orchestra (Chandos’s first all-digital recording). Then it’s back a century for a pair of piano concertos by Hummel with Stephen Hough.

More Hummel, a couple of settings of the Mass text, Hickox presiding; and more choral thrills in the form of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (original version) and Kodály’s Psalmus hungaricus, Sir Charles Mackerras at the helm. Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony, conducted by Neeme Järvi, started Chandos’s series focussing on this composer.

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, with Emma Kirkby and David Thomas, Andrew Parrott directing, is followed by Rachmaninov’s two piano trios with The Borodin Trio and, in turn, by Respighi’s Belkis, Queen of Sheba and Metamorphosen, when Geoffrey Simon cued a Respighi revival.

Lydia Mordkovich’s highly regarded interpretations of Shostakovich’s two violin concertos, Neeme Järvi conducting, are included, as are this composer’s Piano Concerto No.1, with his son Maxim conducting and his grandson Dmitri as soloist, and Chamber Symphony Op.110a. Something very different is choral music by Charles Villiers Stanford including Songs of the Sea and Songs of the Fleet with Gerald Finley.

Chandos’s commitment to Opera in English is represented by highlight from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier with Yvonne Kenny, John Tomlinson, Diana Montague and Rosemary Joshua. And Chandos was in at the beginning with Mariss Jansons, here conducting the Oslo Philharmonic in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a recording that took the world by storm. Less sensational, but no less worthwhile, are three symphonies by Vanhal (1739-1813), an example of the long-running and still-running Contemporaries of Mozart series with Matthias Bamert and the London Mozart Players.

It’s good to have the Original Version of Vaughan Williams’s A London Symphony (Hickox), and there’s film music by this composer, including for Scott of the Antarctic, Rumon Gamba doing the honours; and then there’s Walton’s score for Olivier’s Henry V, with Christopher Plummer narrating and Sir Neville Marriner conducting.

Too much Hummel? Too much Vaughan Williams? Too much Shostakovich? The questions are posed in context. Vernon Handley is not represented, which can’t be said about Richard Hickox. The last three discs give an idea of Chandos’s diversity – Black Dyke Mills Band; The King’s Singers (the group’s debut recording); and Music from the Novels of Louis de Bernières (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) with guitarist Craig Ogden and Alison Stephens on mandolin.

So that’s it. The tip of an inviting iceberg that is Chandos’s record catalogue, this 30th-birthday selection still surprises for all that the chosen recordings have been around for a while; and there’s so much more out there … and more to come.

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