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Saturday 10th December 2016 - Electric Theatre, Guildford
Review rating *****
Surrey Mozart Players’ concert a ‘welcome change from carols’

 
As a momentary relief from incessant Christmas carols, the concert at Guildford’s Electric Theatre on Saturday was a welcome change.
A large audience enthusiastically enjoyed a programme of lighter-weight French orchestral music.  Kenneth Woods and the Surrey Mozart Players were on fine form.  Gounod’s Petite Symphonie, with its evident debt to Mozart, provided a serenade-like opening and the small group of wind players was splendidly coherent. All detail came across convincingly and the intonation was almost immaculate.
Flautist Sarah Bennett was the star of the evening.  Now studying for a Masters degree she is already enjoying a highly successful career in orchestral and concerto work.  Ibert’s lively concerto displayed her brilliant and precise technical control in the outer movements, contrasting with beautiful tone and phrasing in the central Andante.  The orchestra rose well to the challenges of this tricky piece.  There was much to admire here and in Milhaud’s eccentric Le Boeuf sur le Toit and Poulenc’s suite Les Biches.  The enlarged orchestra for the Poulenc was impressive and, apart from the almost inaudible harp, well-balanced.
The Milhaud and Poulenc represent an odd trend in French music in the early 1920s.  As well as with the Ibert, harmony is coloured by extra notes of intriguing but variable consequence and I cannot agree with Mr Woods that Milhaud is a severely underrated composer.
Poulenc’s keener ear places him above the others in quality; Stravinsky rightly praised him for his ‘beguiling muse’.
 
Sebastian Forbes - Surrey Advertiser December 2016
 
 
Saturday 24th September 2016 - Electric Theatre, Guildford
Review rating *****
Mozart Players present a well-blended programme

 
It is difficult to concede that the Surrey Mozart Players belong in a category of non-professional chamber orchestras.
Their skills are so well honed that they rank with the very best, which may be the best reason that their conductor and music director, Kenneth Woods, continues at the sharp end of their music-making. 
Their well-blended programme on Saturday embraced compositions by Mozart, Haydn and Shostakovich with no less than 36 musicians in the orchestra.
The Players chose the overture to Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro as their opener, a jaunty and entertaining mood-setter that introduces several of the vocal highlights of the opera, including Cherubino’s Now so piu and the Countess Almaviva’s famous Dove Sono.  A splendid start for an almost full house.
Kenneth Woods transformed the conductor’s rostrum into a cello soloist platform for what came next, the seldom-heard and perhaps unusual Cello Concerto No 1 (Opus 107) by Dimitri Shostakovich.
The music reflects the composer’s somewhat troubled and ambiguous relationship with the Soviet authorities, so piercingly sensed in the 3rd movement (cadenza) as a cello solo that runs for 148 bars, classically performed and interpreted by Woods.
It was well received with appreciative applause.
Not listed among modern favourite listening, Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No 80 in D Minor was a welcome addition to the evening’s prgramme. Composed during his 29 years of employment with the Esterhazy family, the final of fourmovements, the finale, brings some syncopation and different rhythms in a broad spirit of musical humour. 
For the concert finale, a return to Mozart with Symphony No 36 in C Major (K425) known as Linz.
In essence, it is a richly scored ceremonial work with a delightful balance of intimate phrases mixed with the composer’s traditional grandiose style.  It was a perfect ending to an entertaining concert.
Kenneth Woods has an energetic style of conducting that is easy for audience interpretation.
His considerable experience as both soloist and conductor must be a major influence for members of the orchestra, who have become proven performers at the highest level.
I like the intimacy of Guildford’s Electric Theatre.  The seats are comfortable and the acoustics are good.  A perfect venue fro music of this genre. 
 
Simon Ames - Surrey Advertiser 30th September 2016
 
 
Saturday 25th June 2016 - Electric Theatre, Guildford
Season Finale Gala Concert
Review rating *****
Mozart Players transported audience to Finland

 
Sibelius at his most austere, reflecting the wild forests of his native Finland, dominated the programme presented by the Surrey Mozart Players at the Electric Theatre on Saturday but the kernel of the programme was Busoni’s early and infrequently heard violin concerto in D.
The influence of Brahms and Joachim is apparent in this piece, full as it is of virtuoso writing.  Busoni is certainly generous with his tunes and orchestral effects, if not in clarity of form. The soloist, Greek-born Efi Christodoulou, gave a wonderfully spirited performance, managing the rapid passagework and double stopping with ease, and producing a lovely tone in the more melodic central movement.
The well-drilled orchestra provided excellent support under the direction of Kenneth Woods, with some excellent playing in particular from the flutes.
Kenneth Woods explained to the audience that Busoni was a great friend of Sibelius and encouraged the reticent Finn to resurrect and revise his tone poem En Saga for a performance. Now it is much loved, but enigmatic, beginning as it does with atmospheric strings punctuated by woodwind, and it is some time before the driving forward motions of the main themes get under way.
The performance was well paced and the strings tackled the nasal-sounding sul ponticello moments bravely. The energetic central section of this orchestral masterpiece was truly thrilling but did not last: the piece ends quietly as it began.
Sibelius agonized for a long time over his major works with one exception, his sixth symphony, which apparently flowed from the pen. With its use of Dorian mode, this austere work looks back to medieval times but is again an example of wonderful orchestration.
Short on big tunes, but full of marvelous harmonic effects and tonal colours, it received a masterful performance, with first-class contributions from the melodious woodwind section, the dramatic brass and skilled strings, not to mention the discreet contributions of the timpani and harp to the overall effect. We really did feel transported to the Finnish forests.
 
Shelagh Godwin
 
 
Saturday 12th December 2015 - Electric Theatre, Guildford
Review rating *****
The Surrey Mozart Players do it again

 
The Surrey Mozart Players have done it again! So has brilliant trumpet soloist Simon Desbruslais, who performed John McCabe's trumpet concerto last spring.
In the Electric Theatre last Saturday (December 12) it was the turn of a concerto written for him by Philip Sawyers, whose cello concerto was performed by the Players in March 2013.
Sawyers, who was in the audience, has an eminently accessible style spiced by an arresting harmonic idiom, and a gift for writing appropriately for the instrument.
Desbruslais enthalled the audience with his playing and was totally involved in the performance, excelling in long melodies of the perhaps overlong central movement, and performing the flourishes in the outer movements with relish.
To these ears it was a faultless performance, ably accompanied by the strings and the significant timpani part.
The timpani had another flourish at the beginning of Haydn's Symphony no. 103, nicknamed the Drum Roll.
This symphony saw Haydn at his most inventive, and perhaps in his most creative mood judging by the melodies he used in the slow movement. This was beautifully shaped by conductor Kenneth Woods and the orchestra, with some particularly fine woodwind playing.
The lively outer movements received neat, rhythmic, and lively performances, with Haydn's intricate counterpoint skilfully managed while the minuet and trio received an appropriately rumbustious rendering.
There were some creditable solos from the orchestra's leading violinist and some fine horn calls at the beginning of the finale.
Kenneth Woods has a taste for the unusual, and it was one of Mendelssohn's less familiar pieces which opened this memorable concert.
From hearing it one would not believe that the composer began writing his Trumpet Overture when he was only 16: it is full of bold rhythms and excitng harmonies, punctuated by orchestral trumpet calls.
The piece received a lively, scintillating performance from this remarkable orchestra and its enterprising American-born conductor.
The orchestra returns to its spiritual home on January 30, when they perform Mozart's last three symphonies.
This will be a treat to look forward to.
Shelagh Godwin - Surrey Advertiser
 
Saturday 31st January 2015 - Electric Theatre, Guildford
Review rating *****
Inspiring performance by Mozart Players

 
After many years of neglect, the music of Austrian composer Hans Gál is experiencing something of a resurgence.
His suite Idyllikon, written during a bleak time when he hardly composed anything and his musical style was in the doldrums, was the opening item in a concert given by the Surrey Mozart Players on Saturday,under their conductor, Kenneth Woods.
It is a pleasing extrovert piece in which the woodwind is given several opportunities to shine. And shine they did, with wonderful tunes from oboe,cor anglais, flute and bassoon ringing through the somewhat dry acoustic of the Electric Theatre.
The strings overcame some initial raggedness to contribute to a convincing performance.
The oboe concerto written for Leon Goossens by Ralph Vaughan Williams is a delightful piece, with melodies strongly tinged with the modal element of folksong.
It also calls for considerable virtuosity and received an expert and sensitive performance from Victoria Brawn, who was ably accompanied by the orchestral strings,particularly in the composer’s subtle fugal passages.
Written in the final years of his life, Samuel Barber’s Canzonetta is all that remains of an unfinished oboe concerto, orchestrated after his death by his pupil, Charles Turner. It stands well on its own and abounds in long flowing melodies. Victoria Brawn surmounted the challenges of this work in a performance of great poignancy.
Maurice Maeterlink’s drama Pelléas et Mélisande is likewise a poignant work and inspired several composers.
The stirring opening of Sibelius’s suite is familiar to viewers of The Sky at Night and it was good to hear the complete and beautifully crafted work.
The psychological drama was foremost in the remarkable movement Mélisande at the Spinning Wheel, with its questing uncertainties in key but there were lighter movements, including more lovely playing from the cor anglais and the almost despairing minor chords at the very end were performed with great intensity, bring an inspiring evening to a close.
Shelagh Godwin - Surrey Advertiser

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