I first glommed onto the musical Chess when, while in high school, I was searching for an audition song and a friend gave me a tape with "Anthem" on it. I loved the song (and actually did, if memory serves, butcher it nicely during some actual auditions) and soon had searched out the full score. The version I have is the original 1986 London concept album, made with the London Symphony Orchestra. When I first fell in love with this score, the group ABBA meant pretty much nothing to me (I really know very little about their stuff still) except for a vague notion that they were "cheesy." And yet the Chess score (written by ABBA members and songwriters Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus) evidences a great deal of compositional sophistication. No, this is not high-toned classical composing, nor is it even high-toned musical theater composing, but within the "pop opera" idiom of shows like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera this is very well-done music.
There is an instrumental piece, in particular ("Chess"), that's full of wonderful orchestral writing. Tim Rice produces some of the best lyrics of his career, both well-done conversational recicative-type material and some Gilbert and Sullivan-ish patter wordplay. Many will know the radio-friendly minor hit "One Night in Bangkok" but it's actually one of the weaker numbers, and very inessential to the plot. The aforementioned "Anthem" is a gorgeously stately ballad; other highlights include some wonderful duets, chief among them the "Mountain Duet," and a dramatic and well-sung "rock" number featuring some stratosphere-grazing high notes ("Pity the Child"). A few of the ballads can get a little too treacly, even for my tastes, but on the whole this is a worthy "pop opera" score, easily one of the best of that admittedly narrow-casted genre.