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Crystal clear and as sharp as a razor

Our thanks to Keith Nixon for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on June 18th 2016, which was prepared for and published in the Sunderland Echo :

“For the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s summer concert, conductor David Murray opted to enter into the world of musical theatre. He could not have chosen any better than the works of Stephen Sondheim, Broadway’s greatest composer and lyricist.

Side By Side By Sondheim is a revue divided into sections based on either a particular early Sondheim musical or a common theme, such as marriage or relationships. The whole show is threaded together by a narrator who explains the background to the songs and adds humorous anecdotes about each song or the composer.

The original show of 1976 included three singers but no chorus. The version that we heard at the Minster allowed the BCS to really let their hair down. Comedy Tonight was a perfect opening to the show and Murray’s forces clearly delighted in the brilliant lyrics and terrific music of songs not usually sung by a chorus. They were particularly fine in It’s the Little Things You Do Together and Another Hundred People. It was especially pleasing that their diction was so distinct – Sondheim’s ingenious lyrics were crystal clear and as sharp as a razor.

David Timson’s narration was ideal. He charmed the audience whilst giving valuable and entertaining insight into the music which was probably unfamiliar to many.

The three soloists were all from a classical music rather than a theatrical background. This choice was something of a risk from David Murray and it was only partly successful. Adrian Powter was very good. His performances of I Remember Sky and Anyone Can Whistle were very moving but he showed he could do comedy just as well – Could I Leave You? was perfect.

Anne-Marie Owens was less successful. Her voice, excellent in opera and oratorio, is not well-suited to the different demands of musical theatre. Her strident rendition of Broadway Baby and rather soulless performance of the great torch ballad Losing My Mind were disappointing. Tripping up over the lyrics in Getting Married Today, even in this shortened version of the song, did not help.

Without doubt, the star of the evening was Laurie Ashworth. She clearly loves singing Sondheim and her silky voice and delicious sense of fun wowed the audience. Her performance of I Never Do Anything Twice was full of wit and subtle innuendo; she was terrific in the comedy duet Barcelona; and her version of The Boy From … (Sondheim’s answer to The Girl From Ipanema) was simply breathtaking.

David Murray, as well as conducting, accompanied the show on piano with fellow-pianist Eileen Bown (ably aided by the most dedicated page-turner I have ever seen). Murray must have been extremely pleased with yet another example of his choir’s versatility and was clearly delighted with the enthusiastic response from the audience. More Sondheim please!”

Keith Nixon


Friday, July 1st, 2016

Supporting Citizenship








On Thursday 21st of April 2016, a cohort of members of the Society took part in one of Sunderland’s regular Citizenship Ceremonies, which recognise the final step in the process of becoming a British Citizen.

In the Civic Suite, the presence of the Lord Lieutenant, Susan Winfield OBE, the Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Barry Curran and the Mayoress Mrs Carol Curran, new citizens made an oath or affirmation to our Sovereign to be a faithful citizen and a formal and public pledge to be a loyal subject and observe the laws of this country.

The choir provided musical items while everyone was taking their places, were featured by singing a piece during the ceremony and led the singing of the National Anthem at the end, before having the opportunity to mix with the new citizens over afternoon tea.





Sunday, April 24th, 2016

In such fine voice

Our thanks to Keith Nixon for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on March 19th 2016, prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

“The title of Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s concert, Smooth Classics for Spring, gave a strong hint that the audience was in for an evening of Classic FM style top ten choral hits. This was certainly true of the second half but the inclusion of a choral rarity proved to be an inspired piece of programming.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel was famous in his day as a composer and pianist. During his lifetime he was revered equally with his contemporary, Beethoven, and has well over a hundred compositions to his credit. However, history has not been so appreciative and performances of Hummel’s music are all too infrequent. Therefore, it was a surprise that conductor David Murray devoted the first half of the concert to his Mass in B flat.

Scored for small orchestra and chorus but, unusually, without soloists, the work is a challenge for any choir as it provides no opportunity to rest the vocal cords. Typically, the BCS responded to the challenge with aplomb. Throughout the piece, they sang with great sensitivity. Clear diction and expression have become expected norms from the society and this performance revealed the different colours and layers of dynamics that Hummel surely intended. The Agnus Dei was particularly moving and the whole work was beautifully accompanied by the excellent small band of orchestral players.

The second half of the concert contained a selection of well-known choral miniatures – a delight to perform and certainly to listen to. Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus set the standard with beautifully tender singing. John Rutter’s arrangement of Franck’s Panis Angelicus with organ and cello accompaniment was a delight.

Two versions of Psalm 23 were especially appreciated by the audience. Schubert’s famous composition in Stainer’s arrangement was imaginatively augmented by Murray adding parts for wind and strings. It was good to hear the full version of Howard Goodall’s The Lord Is My Shepherd away from its usual context as the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley. Both settings were sung with reverential feeling.

It was great to have the Bishopwearmouth Young Singers at the concert. Eileen Bown must be very proud of her young performers who sang wonderfully. Their support to the main body of the choir added a great deal to the enjoyment of the evening and their rendition of three excerpts from Andrew Carter’s Benedicte was terrific.

The orchestra, ably led by Martin Hughes, came into their own with a charming performance of Mozart’s first Salzburg Symphony. This was much appreciated by the members of the choir, not least because it gave them a chance to have a well-earned rest!

The concert ended serenely with Rutter’s setting of All Things Bright and Beautiful – a lovely ending to a delightful concert. In his programme notes, David Murray states that the piece suggests that choral music in the UK is in good hands. With the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society in such fine voice, there can be no doubt that he is correct.”

Keith Nixon

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Behold the Sea

Our thanks to Keith Nixon for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on December 5th 2015, prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :


An enthusiastic audience braved the wrath of Storm Desmond to attend the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s traditional December concert. They were richly rewarded with a suitably storming performance.

The concert began with Songs from A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth in an orchestration of delicate colouring by Lance Baker. Baritone Alexander Robin Baker proved to be the ideal soloist, demonstrating wonderful refinement and care with Houseman’s bittersweet text. Baker’s beauty of tone in the opening phrase of Loveliest of Trees set the standard, culminating in a spellbinding rendition of Is My Team Ploughing.

So far the choral society had had a very relaxing time of it but all that was to change in dramatic fashion. The Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams, based on poems by Walt Whitman, is a great choral masterpiece and a huge challenge for any choir. With inspirational conductor David Murray in charge, the BCS responded magnificently with a performance of great nobility and elation. The opening chorus, Behold the Sea was spine-tinglingly good and in the third movement, The Waves, you could almost feel the breakers’ sting on the face and taste the salty bite of the spray.

Alexander Robin Baker and soprano Sally Harrison were both in excellent voice with delightful clarity of diction and sensitive response to Whitman’s poetry. The orchestra, hand-picked by Murray, showed great control in the faster sections and consummate beauty in the quieter moments – the accompaniment to O Vast Rondure was particularly moving.

The chorus sounded as fresh at the end of the symphony as they were at the beginning – no mean achievement in such a demanding and challenging work.The epilogue, O Farther, Farther Sail was heart-achingly tender and the warm applause that followed was richly deserved.

The Bishopwearmouth Choral Society continues to go from strength to strength, having provided the audience with a rewarding and truly moving experience – a triumph for all concerned.

Keith Nixon

Monday, December 7th, 2015

Together in Harmony







The following is a review prepared for publication in The Northern Echo of the joint concert by Orchestra North East, Bishopwearmouth Choral Society and Ryton Choral Society performed at The Sage, Gateshead on Sunday 14th June 2015.

Verdi Conceert at Sage







Orchestra North East treated its audience to an exquisite performance featuring two of Guiseppe Verdi’s signature works at Sage Gateshead.

Expertly directed by renowned local pianist and choral trainer, David Murray, the programme began with the overture to La Forza del Destino. With its spine-chilling opening chords from the brass section, depicting vengeance, to its virtuosic close, the orchestra played with verve and style.

Of particular note were the solo performances by flautist Margaret Borthwick, oboist Philip Cull, and clarinettist Jennifer Murray.

For the second work, Messa da Requiem, Orchestra North East joined forces with two excellent regional choirs; Bishopwearmouth Choral Society and Ryton Choral Society.

Murray displayed impeccable mastery in his direction of both choir and orchestra, his economical style finding the perfect balance of passion and control.

Memorable amongst the seven sections of the Requiem was the Dies Irae. Depicting beautifully the wrath of God, the oversized bass drum was put to good use. Trumpets positioned high above the audience – answered in clarion by their onstage counterparts – provided an ethereal moment before the huge orchestral climax.

Soloists Claire Rutter, Deborah Humble, James Edwards and Stephen Gadd expertly interpreted Verdi’s intensely melodic work with its surging passions, drama, and radical changes of mood.

Together in harmony, Orchestra North East, choirs and soloists produced a performance of truly professional standard, which received the recognition of an appreciative audience.

Founded almost 30 years ago and comprising both amateur and professional musicians from across the North East, Orchestra North East come together for three major concerts each year. Their next performance, featuring the works of Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov, takes place in Durham Cathedral on Saturday October 10.

 David Thornber


Friday, June 19th, 2015

‘An ideal combination of composer, conductor and choir’…….


Our thanks to Keith Nixon for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on March 28th 2015, prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

“Hats off to Bishopwearmouth Choral Society! Their Spring concert was as uplifting as it was outstanding.

Conductor David Murray chose an all-Elgar programme: the great song cycle Sea Pictures framed by two choral pieces which proved a perfect vehicle to show off his marvellous choir.

The concert opened with Scenes from Bavarian Highlands, a relatively early work and generally lightweight in tone. It shows Elgar at his most carefree and joyous – qualities savoured to the full in Murray’s exuberant performance. The highlight was the haunting ‘Aspiration’, sung with reverential tenderness.

Written for the striking contralto Clara Butt, who gave the work’s première dressed a mermaid, Sea Pictures is Elgar’s only orchestral song cycle. It finds the composer at his most elegiac, yet with a warm twinkle in his eye. These exquisite miniatures depict the sea in all its guises, peaceful and storm-tossed by turns. They were sung with so much passion by Sarah Pring that in ‘The Swimmer’ she was occasionally all at sea with her nautical vowel-sounds. ‘Where Corals Lie’ was, however, delightfully performed.

The second half of the concert was devoted to The Music Makers, an autobiographical work, full of quotes from Elgar’s other scores. It is perhaps his most challenging and advanced vocal work in terms of harmony and rhythmic complexity. Impassioned playing in the orchestral introduction paved the way for a choral contribution whose sharply focused tone and unflagging energy were hugely impressive. Whether as ‘dreamers of dreams’ or as ‘the movers and shakers of the world’, the choir left the audience in no doubt of music’s power. ‘That ye of the past must die’ was delivered with such intensity of feeling that audience members were actually heard to gasp.

When the final bars drifted away to nothingness, the rapturous applause that followed was richly deserved. The audience had experienced something very special – an ideal combination of composer, conductor and choir.”

Keith Nixon

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Singing out and about

Thursday 12th February 2015 saw Bishopwearmouth Choral Society engaging in a new joint venture with Sunderland Business Improvement District as part of improving the Evening Economy in the Bridges Shopping Centre and trying to recruit new members to the Society. For everyone who was able to take part it was both a new experience and a unique venue.

A group from the Society gave a series of mini-performances, led by David Murray from the keyboard, to treat passers-by to a selection of our type of music, to pass out information about the Society and to invite any budding recruits to an Open Evening to be held on Wednesday 25th February from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m. in The Café, Sunderland Minster. If you know anyone who would like to find out how their voice can fit into the choir then you can find out more or book a place for this by e-mailing Eileen on or by phoning Grahame at 07889 177 092.











Our thanks to Laura Hartland-Adams, the Events & Operations Manager for Sunderland BID, and to staff at The Bridges for making this possible and to those in the Society who enabled it to happen.

A Treat for passing Shoppers

A Treat for passing Shoppers














Friday, February 13th, 2015

Messiah meets Miser

The following review of the concert on Saturday 6th December 2014 was prepared by Keith Nixon for publication in the Sunderland Echo.

“A standing ovation at the end of the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s latest concert must have been music to the ears of their gifted conductor, David Murray. Their latest success showed the choir at its most versatile and proved that they can master whatever challenge their inspiring director throws at them.

Messiah meets the Miser was the theme of the evening with a beloved Christmas piece of the classical repertoire paired with a musical based on a classic Christmas novel. This was an unusual combination but the contrast worked a treat.

The first half was devoted to the Christmas music from Handel’s Messiah (plus the Hallelujah Chorus). The soloists (Ana Fernandez Guerra, Charlotte Heslop, Simon Lee and Richard Gooding) were excellent. They responded to the text and score with just the right amount of devotion and fervour. The choir was in terrific form with ‘For Unto Us a Child is Born’ sung with as much exultation as I have ever heard it.

The musical ‘A Christmas Carol’, based on Dickens’ novella, was written in 1979 by David Murray with words by Tony Runham. It was originally designed to be performed by schoolchildren but the writers extended the piece last year to make it into a much bigger work. With the choir donning Victorian costume, it gave the members an opportunity to show off not only their singing prowess but their acting and dancing skills too. They seemed to love every minute of it.

With catchy tunes such as ‘Do You Remember?’ and ‘Change My Ways’ interspersed with traditional carols, Murray’s musical wowed the audience. Semi-staged by Miranda Wright, the performers used the whole space of the minster to retell brilliantly the story of Scrooge’s transition from penny-pincher to philanthropist. The Bishopwearmouth Young Singers were excellent throughout, clearly enjoying the occasion as much as the adults. Amongst many of the society’s successes were Neil Pont’s splendid narration, Chris Moore’s snarling Scrooge, Martin Richards’ scary Marley and Ian Watson’s sensational dancing.

At the end, the performers threw ‘snowballs’ at the audience, who responded with thunderous applause before going off into the December night, full of true Christmas spirit.”

Keith Nixon

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Scrooge needs you!

ScroogeAre you young enough to sing in the Young Singers? Do you like singing? Do you like Christmas? Do you like to perform? Why not have Fun Fridays and start the weekend with us at Ewesley Road Methodist Church from 6 till 7.30 p.m. as we rehearse ‘A Christmas Carol’ to be performed on Saturday December 6th 2014 with the rest of Bishopwearmouth Choral Society. More details about us on the Young Singers page of this website.

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Striking Quality …………

The following review of the concert on Saturday 21st June 2014 was prepared by Keith Nixon for publication in the Sunderland Echo.

“An enthusiastic and appreciative audience sacrificed the chance to watch World Cup goals on TV to attend the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s summer concert. They were richly rewarded with a performance of striking quality.

The society’s charismatic director, David Murray, chose a programme of music from four different centuries. The concert began with Haydn’s ‘Joke’ string quartet, delightfully played by the Edinburgh Quartet. Murray then showed off his dazzling pianistic skills in accompanying Vaughan Williams’ ‘Songs of Travel’. This was beautifully sung by Luke Williams – ‘Bright is the Ring of Words’ was particularly moving.

So far the BCS had had a pretty easy time of it but all that was to change dramatically! ‘Who Are These Angels?’ by James MacMillan was sensational. Approachable without being apologetic, MacMillan’s work can both delight and challenge. The piece contained wonderful surprises, like the string quartet’s seagull effects at the end. The choir responded to the challenge magnificently with the basses in especially good form. More MacMillan in the future, please!

The second half was devoted to Purcell’s operatic masterpiece, ‘Dido and Aeneas’. Murray, directing from the harpsichord, allowed soloists and players the freedom to really express themselves. Sally Burchell was magnificent as Dido, the betrayed Queen of Carthage. Her lament was achingly moving and proved to be the crowning climax of a powerful performance.

Elen Lloyd Roberts as Belinda was the perfect foil to Burchell’s Dido while Sarah Ryan was the sexiest Sorceress I have ever seen. Luke Williams as Aeneas was in fine voice, every inch the hapless lover torn between war and his queen. The choir clearly loved every minute of it. ‘Harm’s our delight and mischief all our skill’ was malevolence personified and the boozy sailors of Act III would not have looked (and sounded) out of place in the Museum Vaults.

The Bishopwearmouth Choral Society continues to go from strength to strength and, under David Murray’s direction, has once again proved to be the amateur choir with professional standards.”

Keith Nixon

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014