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Reviews

 

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

 

Saturday 15th November 2014 - Electric Theatre, Guildford

Review rating *****

Arresting start, inspiring end

 

A large audience attended the splendid concert by the Surrey Mozart Players last Saturday at Guildford’s Electric Theatre.

Conductor Kenneth Woods presented four works relevant to current commemorations of the Great War.

A special feature was the appearance of an already widely experienced young tenor, Peter Aisher, in a commanding performance of On Wenlock Edge. Vaughan Williams set these six poems by Housman in 1909, but it was appropriate, given the work’s prevailing theme of resignation, that he revisited it after the war and most effectively arranged the accompaniment for orchestra.

Vaughan Williams and Ravel both lost many friends in the War. Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin not only recaptures some dance forms of the baroque era but commemorates in turn several friends. Four of these six piano pieces also appeared in orchestral form, and provided an arresting opening for the concert. The conductor rightly offered special praise for Michael Grieff’s playing of the particularly challenging oboe part.

Butterworth’s beautiful Idyll: The Banks of Green Wlllow (1913) testifies to a huge promise, tragically ended when the composer was shot in the battle of the Somme.

How inspiring to end the concert with Haydn. Appropriately, the selected symphony - No 44 in E minor - was drawn from the earnest ‘Sturm and Drang” period. The orchestral layout, with second violins on the right, was as Haydn would have recognised and was worth trying as a change from the norm ( as seen in the picture in the programme book).

In this well rehearsed and exciting concert, flaws were few and easily forgiven, thus supporting the orchestra’s claim to be 'one of the top non-professional chamber orchestras in the country.’

Sebastian Forbes, Surrey Advertiser

 

Saturday 20th September 2014 - Electric Theatre, Guildford

Review rating *****

Exhilarating start to Mozart Players’ season

 

Guildford is indeed fortunate in hosting the Surrey Mozart Players whose opening concert of the 2014-15 season in the Electric Theatre on Saturday was received enthusiastically by a full house.
The pièce de résistance was the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D, op.47, with Alexander Sitkovetsky the gifted soloist who had the audience in his thrall from his magical first notes, his violin singing lyrically to a pianissimoaccompaniment. This intensity was maintained throughout. In the Adagio movement the violin enters with a long, brooding, sonorous theme, the low viola-like tones touching the very core of one's being. Not only reaching emotional peaks, Mr. Sitkovetsky displayed a brilliant technique in some fiendishly demanding passages. This was a superb, thrilling performance in which he fully demonstrated his complete mastery.
The orchestra also rose to inspired heights under the baton of Kenneth Woods in a sensitive accompaniment to well-balanced dialogue with the violin, the orchestral sound being full and round with great variation in colour from mysteriously menacing tones to the joyful rhythmic dance tempi, and syncopation worthy of congratulation. Altogether this was a most persuasive rendering of a challenging work.
Mozart's Overture The Impresario was the appetiser. The dynamic opening chord arrested one's immediate attention, followed by contrasting sections, at times forceful, at times light, staccato passages beautifully nuanced, and ended with aplomb.
The concert concluded with the Symphony no.5 in F major by Dvorak.
Here again the Surrey Mozart Players demonstrated its skills with neat, well-balanced exchanges between woodwind and brass, or lower and upper strings, the interplay skilfully executed, the mood of each movement clearly communicated: lyrical or triumphant, meditative or joyful.
The symphony ended with tremendous energy, an exhilarating close to an exhilarating evening.

This talented orchestra goes from strength to strength, season by season, as the first concert of the new season demonstrated this most convincingly.

M. J. Morley - Surrey Advertiser

 

Saturday 21st June 2014 - Electric Theatre, Guildford

Review rating *****

Such a welcome feeling of optimism

 

What a treat to hear American cellist Parry Karp perform Barber’s Cello Concerto Op 22 with such a fluent singing tone at the Electric Theatre.

This is an extraordinarily restless work, full of urgent intensity and introspection – the music of a disturbed soul – but throughout the virtuoso challenges, which included fingering beyond the fingerboard, Karp sustained his fabulous mellow sound.

The second movement was more reflective before urgency returned on an appassionato level but with a more positive feel.  The Second World War was the backdrop to this composition.

This concerto was not just a challenge for the soloist but also for the Surrey Mozart Players, who really took to the work and gave it their all under the inspired and disciplined directorship of Kenneth Woods – continuing the American connection.

I particularly appreciated Woods’ very knowledgeable and sensitive introductions to all the works in the programme. They added a lot to the appreciation of the concert.

Karp’s generous spirit also contributed to the whole experience. He lowered the emotional temperature of the programme with a blissfully simple encore: an immaculately executed performance of one of Bach’s works for solo cello.

The orchestra needed a brisk musical workout to prepare for the rigours of the Barber, and Weber’s Overture Euryanthe Op 81 was the right choice – requiring oodles of energy and sharp concentration for bright crisp attack, but it was a big ask for the opening work of the concert.

The orchestra achieved the attack well, but overall the overture sounded a little rough around the edges and the violin section was slightly strident – possibly a feature of the Electric Theatre acoustics. I would have liked to hear a greater dynamic range – both the Weber and the Barber were predominately full on, and a greater variety of tonal colour but they were gutsy performances and most enjoyable.

Symphony No 5 in D Major by Vaughan Williams, also written against the backdrop of the war, provided a serene finale.  Again, the soft passages needed to be emphasised more, though the Romanza lento was lovely and the wind section came into its own in this movement. The whole symphony gave a welcome feeling of optimism.

This was an adventurous programme tackled with enthusiasm that provided a platform for a superb solo performance by Karp.

Elizabeth Boyce - Surrey Advertiser

 

Saturday 1st February 2014 - Electric Theatre, Guildford
Concerto brings in spring with a flourish

 

It was not quite a world premiere, but at the Electric Theatre on Saturday, a night when the river Wey threatened to overflow its banks yet again, John McCabe’s trumpet concerto was performed in the presence of the composer, by its dedicatee, the gifted Simon Desbruslais.
Bringing with it the promise of spring in its title La Primavera the work abounds in brief flourishes rather than expansive themes, particularly in the first movement where the skilful trumpet playing was echoed by equally fine contributions from flute, oboe, bassoon and trombone among others. Switching to the Flugelhorn for the central Andante, the soloist at last had the opportunity to play, but this music with its leaning towards the jazz idiom could have swung a bit more. The finale was vibrant and rhythmical with lots of interaction between the solo trumpeter, two colleagues in the orchestra and a great section of percussion instruments including bongos.
The orchestra under Kenneth Woods performed neatly and effectively in a well-drilled performance acclaimed by the full house.
Telemann’s trumpet concerto in D saw Desbruslais taking up a third instrument, the little D trumpet so often used in earlier times to play baroque music. And he played it magnificently in a lively, extrovert piece contrasting with the soulful slow movement played by the strings alone, supported by Maureen Galea on the keyboard.
The evening opened with Prokofiev’s A Summer’s Day, arrangements of piano pieces for children in his ‘socialist realism’ style but none the less attractive for that.
The closing work was Copland’s Appalachian Spring, an evocative depiction of a young couple’s wedding day written by the composer who was beginning to discover a truly American style. Incorporating a lively ‘hoe-down’ and also a well-loved Shaker song, this skilfully written suite received a vivid performance in which orchestral winds, particularly the flute, and the harp excelled.

Shelagh Godwin - Surrey Advertiser

 

Saturday 23rd November 2013 - Holy Trinity, Guildford

Orchestra and choir come together to perform a great Mozart final composition

 

Listening to Mozart’s Requiem, the very last music he wrote, one is compelled to ask what else he would have written had he not died when he did.
Even in its unfinished state it contains music of the highest inspiration, enhanced by the composer’s discovery of contrapuntal music by Bach and Handel.
In completing it, Franz Süssmayr enabled the work to be performed and blending the work of the two composers has to be one of the challenges presented to anyone performing it.
It was a challenge supremely met by the charismatic Kenneth Woods and his Surrey Mozart Players and the Guildford Chamber Choir at Holy Trinity Church, Guildford, on November 23.
The performance was imbued with courageously fast tempi and a forward momentum even between movements (no respect here for the liturgical context of the work), coupled with an intense enjoyment of Mozart’s complex orchestral and choral writing.
The strings and darkly coloured winds chosen by Mozart sounded great in the resonant acoustic. The choir was alert, responsive and accurate, with excellent attention to dynamic contrasts, and the performance graced by some fine soloists.
Soprano Sofia Larsson shone in the plainsong Te decet hymnus, blending nicely with contralo Elizabeth Sikora, tenor Andrew Wicks and bass Michael Druiett in the glorious Recordare and Süssmayr’s Benedictus, but the Tuba mirum was almost too operatic (perhaps what Mozart intended).
When members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra baulked at playing more music by ‘an unknown Czech composer’, they may have had in mind the difficulties presented by Dvorak’s Sixth Symphony.
With its wealth of good tunes, scurrying passages, remarkable modulations, moments of fugato and quirky exuberance, it did not faze the Surrey Mozart Players, some rough edges notwithstanding.
There was an innate excitement to Kenneth Woods’ interpretation, contrasted by a gloriously intensity in the slow movement by some fine woodwind playing.
We look forward to John McCabe’s Trumpet Concerto and Copland’s Appalachian Spring on Saturday February 1st.

Shelagh Godwin - Surrey Advertiser

 

Saturday 29th June 2013 - Electric Theatre, Guildford

Season's Climax


The Surrey Mozart Players’ final concert of the season was given at the Electric Theatre under the baton the orchestra’s music director, Kenneth Woods.
The programme opened with a rather too brisk performance of Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni in which the orchestra took time to settle into the tempo set by Woods.
Sibelius’s difficult and rarely performed symphony No 4 was introduced by the conductor as a piece composed during an uncertain and gloomy period in the composer’s life.
It is a difficult work to comprehend, the endlessly shifting tonality being confusing but nevertheless adding to the depth of feeling portrayed in the symphony.
The orchestra responded well to the challenge, with particularly fine playing from the principal flute, Ruth Chappell, and the principal cellist Hilary Taylor.
The final work was Brahms’ violin concerto, in which the soloist was Alexander Sitkovetsky, a former student of the Yehudi Menuhin School and now a rising star on the international scene.
From the very opening bars, it was evident that soloist and orchestra had achieved a remarkable musical rapport in the brief rehearsal time allowed.
The capacity audience was treated to an outstanding performance of this large-scale concerto in which the lyrical playing of the soloist was matched by the orchestra, and particular mention must be made of the oboe solo (Michael Grieff), which opens the slow movement.
The tumultuous applause at the end of the performance indicated a truly fitting climax to the Surrey Mozart Players’ season.
Douglas MacMillan - Surrey Advertiser



 

Saturday 23rd June 2013 - Electric Theatre, Guildford

Bogdanovic puts in virtuoso display


The Surrey Mozart Players are a remarkable orchestra. And they do not perform only Mozart. Under their charismatic American conductor Kenneth Woods they presented a most enterprising programme of unfamiliar works at The Electric Theatre.
The kernel was a concerto written in 2011 by Philip Sawyers for cellist Maja Bogdanovic, who played the solo. It is well-written, with plenty of scope for the soloist's virtuosity and harmonically accessible and tonal.
The big themes, however, could have been further developed. Serbia and Paris resident Bogdanovic gave it everything, and what a virtuoso it was. When she had big tunes, she carried the day. The orchestra accompanied very capably, with wonderful playing particularly from the woodwind.
Bogdanovic's other contribution was no less virtuoso. Tchaikovsky's Pezzo Capriccioso is less well-known (and to my mind less tedious) than the Rococo Variations, and is a tour de force for the soloist who scarcely stops playing very rapid passage work throughout, and it was brilliantly executed. But there is always a darker side to Tchaikovsky, and this came over in the sombre orchestral setting.
Benjamin Britten probably resonated with Tchaikovsky's emotional problems, but his opus 1, a sinfonietta written when he was 18, is remarkably mature. Not a note is wasted, everything he wrote was important, and the orchestra coped well with his demands.
Beethoven's 4th Symphony concluded. Written by a man in his 30s, gaining popularity, but already going deaf, it is a lively extrovert piece, again with a darker side, particularly in the foreboding climax to the slow movement.
The symphony was taken at a rapid, almost reckless speed, creating a very exciting performance. As throughout the evening, there were excellent contributions from individual members of the orchestra, particularly in the woodwind, trumpets and horns.
The Surrey Advertiser

 

Saturday 26th January 2013 - Electric Theatre, Guildford

Surrey Mozart Players excel in ambitious show


Over the years the Surrey Mozart Players under charismatic conductor Kenneth Woods has enlarged its repertoire to include ambitious works.
I particularly recall a striking performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony with the Guildford Chamber Choir. But at the Electric Theatre the programme was entirely orchestral.
It opened with the overture to Schubert’s opera Die Zauberharfe. Although the opera was an abject failure, the overture survived and was later published with the incidental music to Rosamunde, and took on that title.
It is an impressive piece with an imposing introduction, and contains fine woodwind writing. Kenneth Woods’s interpretation was rightly energetic, but allowed space for these lovely melodies.
Melodiousness and virtuosity were the hallmarks of Mozart’s Oboe Concerto, rediscovered in 1948 before which only the composer’s rearrangement for flute existed.
Soloist Peter Facer gave a rousing performance of the concerto, revelling in the virtuosic passages, soaring at times up to the ultimate top G, and producing a beautiful sweet tone in the many lyrical passages. The orchestral accompaniment was light-touched and sensitive.
Bruckner might have been a new departure for the orchestra, but judging by the second Symphony it was entirely successful. Written when the composer was 48, this is by no means juvenilia. The orchestra made the most of the stirring modulations, the persistent triple rhythms in the brass, and those lovely questioning phrases – the hallmark of a composer never entirely sure of himself. There was a particularly affecting slow movement, none the worse for its length, and a wonderfully incisive scherzo.
But it was the soaring tunes that gave the instrumentalists of this outstanding orchestra an opportunity to shine. Encore!
The Surrey Advertiser

 

 

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