Concert Review- Surrey Mozart Players, Brahms Alto Rhapsody and Beethoven Symphony no. 9

Small-scale Choral Symphony draws large crowds

Surrey Mozart Players – Holy Trinity Church – 19th November 2011

When Beethoven conducted the première of his Choral Symphony in 1824 to rapturous applause the forces deployed were not much different from those used in the Surrey Mozart Players’ conclusion to their Beethoven symphony cycle last Saturday [19th November]. It was the inspired idea of conductor Kenneth Woods and long-standing (and just retiring) Chairman, clarinettist Alan Dewey, to invite the Guildford Chamber Choir to join them in this venture.

Any fears that the forty-strong choir would be swamped by the orchestra, which extended well into the nave of HolyTrinityChurch, were soon dispelled. Emma Curtis lent her beautiful, strong, and wide-ranging contralto voice to a superb performance of Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody, which begins with strikingly questioning tones, and moves through a soulful aria into a wonderfully soothing dénouement in which the contralto is supported by rich choral sounds from the men’s voices. The balance was superb, contributing to an excellent performance.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony begins with three massive orchestral movements. The first, stormy, questioning, but full of decisive melodies, requires a bold approach, which it received from Kenneth Woods’s forces. Particularly striking in this smaller-scale performance was Beethoven’s use of the classical harmonie or wind band, and for the most part the performers played excellently.  And the concluding build-up of fanfares over an insistently recurring bass was beautifully done.

The scherzo and trio were well defined and dramatic, and the contrasting instrumental groups came over well.. The beautiful Andante received a delightfully expressive performance, again with fine contributions from individual instrumentalists.

And so to the finale, beginning with that chaotic introduction; the probing of previous themes, interrupted by the insistent recitative from cellos and basses; the introduction of the great (if sometimes hackneyed) ‘Ode to Joy’ theme; and the baritone’s invocation of Beethoven’s own words to forget the sadness and break out into joy. That baritone was Michael Druiett, and he, together with Sarah Helsby-Hughes, Emma Curtis, and Ronan Busfield, made splendid individual contributions and moreover blended beautifully in passages where they all sang together. The choir sang with excitement and cohesion coupled with superb discipline, and was a fine match for the orchestra. This was a wonderful ‘Ode to Joy’.

Shelagh Godwin

for the Surrey Advertiser

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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