The Malvern-based Chandos Symphony Orchestra, always renowned for the enterprising nature of its programming, put on its most ambitious presentation yet on Sunday, bringing three masterworks of early last century which would tax even professional ensembles.
Certainly these dedicated amateurs could have done with a departure from their usual restricted rehearsal policy, and had a couple more sessions to consolidate confidence and liberate a bit more fantasy.
Strings needed a deeper roundness of tone at times (which would have led to greater security of intonation), just as brass could have done with greater self-belief, but nevertheless this was an enormously engaging evening to enter into the Chandos archives.
Rachmaninov's haunting tone-poem The Isle of the Dead rocked and flowed with a sureness of pulse under Peter Stark's baton as the rowing-boat in Bocklin's amazing painting brought its coffin to rest. Climaxes were built with patient inevitability, but timbres were occasionally coarse in this most chillingly austere of scores.
David Greed was the soloist in Samuel Barber's once-declared unplayable Violin Concerto, his rich singing tones persuading a snappy orchestra to join him in an unveiling of lush romanticism instead of pursuing the dream of open-air prairies. And his dexterity in the fizzing, sparky finale was matched by an on fire Chandos, with Stark securing a deftly witty ending.
Outstanding in Stravinsky's Petrushka (more difficult actually even than the Rite of Spring) were the young pianist Peter Shepherd (pity Stravinsky forgets about this huge role halfway through) and the Chandos woodwinds, not least oboist Philip Shields after his wonderful contribution to the Barber's slow movement, and especially flautist Sarah Ellis.
Caution was the watchword here, so we lost some of the essential elements of the story's drama, beautifully recounted in John Gough's excellent programme-notes. Never mind: Stark and his willing musicians gave Malvern a rare hearing of this seminal work, and for that Chandos deserves the region's deep thanks.