Chandos Symphony Orchestra Review

Forum Theatre, Malvern – 19th March 2023

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau


I had never had the privilege of seeing Malvern’s amateur orchestra, The Chandos Symphony Orchestra, before so was looking forward to this evening. Especially given some rather intriguing programming.

The evening opened with Rossini’s Overture to William Tell. This famous overture, portions of which have been used elsewhere (most notably as the theme from The Lone Ranger), is a real crowd pleaser. And right away the orchestra thrilled us with a full throttle reading, beginning with the opening section featuring the cellos. The rest of the orchestra burst forth soon enough, with some surprisingly muscular, rousing brass! Wonderful. It was to get better.

For me, the real draw was hearing a concerto for Jazz Harp. I wasn’t even sure what that even was before this evening; wondering perhaps if the composer meant harmonica (like it is sometimes called a Blues Harp). But no, to my delight it was an actual harp! Not just a harp though; an electric harp.

The soloist for tonight’s World Premiere (you don’t often get to be at those) was also the composer: Ben Creighton-Griffiths. His work was indeed very jazzy, with the inclusion of a full drum kit to complement the usual orchestral forces as well as many improvised sections. I was genuinely (and very pleasantly) surprised to discover we were to be transported to Latin America for a Samba, back in time for a 1930’s jazz/blues interlude, right up to date with a thoroughly modern opening in 5/4 and to enjoy a waltz courtesy of the Balkans. But it was the middle movement, the ballad, that was the emotional and figurative heart of the piece. I closed my eyes and saw James Bond cavorting around the French Riviera with his wife to the strains of this beautifully evocative movement. I was pleased to discover, upon meeting the composer himself in the interval, that he had exactly that in mind – so perfect was his conjuring of mood and filmic scene painting!

If that piece does not make his name with multiple performances everywhere then there’s no justice in the world. A stunning piece with range, wit, drama and passion. Accomplished playing too from Ben on that amazing harp! To be the standout piece in a program containing Rossini and Franck is a testament to the talent of this young composer who I’m sure will have a long and distinguished career ahead. A truly masterful achievement.

After the break came Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor. A romantic symphony that has more than a touch of Gershwin about it. Not one of my favourite pieces but this orchestra really brought it to life with some very exciting playing. Giving it their all, at the conclusion several members of the orchestra were puffing their cheeks, visibly drained. Special mention must go to their fabulous Conductor Michael Lloyd who gave the orchestra room to shine and wowed us with some athletic tempi to intoxicate the senses.

A joyous evening of wonderful music, I cannot wait to see Malvern’s finest again. Bravo!