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Power and might, yet delicacy and detail

Our thanks to Philip Sanderson for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on Saturday December 2nd 2017, which was prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

“Despite it was the Saturday evening following the most wintry of weeks, there was not a single spare seat and a very eager turn out in Sunderland Minster for Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s concert entitled “On Christmas Night.” The concert, featuring music by Benjamin Britten, Bob Chilcott, John Rutter and Will Todd was led by David Murray, one of the North East’s most outstanding musicians. The Bishopwearmouth Young Singers also featured, along with soprano Jessica Holmes who also teamed up with Murray to add another dimension to this already varied programme.

The concert began with two contrasting modern carols: Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music” and Todd’s “My Lord Has Come”. The latter was a fabulous contemporary carol by local composer Will Todd. The performances set the tone for the rest of the evening. The choir was excellent: there was perfect clarity and voices absolutely well balanced and blended. All parts of the choir were strong: many choirs are good, but still run the risk of having unequal competence on all the parts. And Bishopwearmouth Choral Society certainly did have the expertise in all areas of the choir to present beauty, detail, shape and colour to these modern carols.

A tranquil wintery harp solo, “Au Bord du Ruisseau,” sensitively performed by Venera Bojkova seemed to almost act as a prelude to the first half of this concert’s substantial item, Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”. This was a significant change in direction to the start of the concert. Texts taken mainly from the 14th Century are set to the unique 20th Century style of Benjamin Britten. For anyone who knows anything about choral writing, or indeed choral singing, they will appreciate that this set, of 11 short carols, is not easy .

So how did the choir handle this work? The short answer is incredibly well. They did a marvellous job. From the outset every word could be heard: the diction was pristine. The choral sound was fantastic. It came across, I’m sure to everyone in the minster, as complicated yet impressive. The choir had the power in, for example, “Welcome Yole,” but this did not compromise the clarity and the diction. The control and confidence prevailed throughout making remarkable work of the very rhythmically challenging sections, which, without the music, are tongue twisters in themselves at the best of times. In “This Little Babe” and “Deo Gracias!” the ‘imagery’ created by the choral sound was vivid. The carols were fast enough to ensure excitement and brilliance, but remained rigorously controlled. All of this energy was charmingly contrasted in “Balulalow” by the clear and pure sonority of the soprano solo by Jessica Holmes. And the whole piece was accompanied carefully by the harp.

The second half opened with a complete contrast: Murray’s “Oh, Ebenezer”. A fun bit of swing fabulously performed by Bishopwearmouth Young Singers. This was then followed by two fine solos from Holmes, which, just like in the first half were a perfect precursor to the main work: Chilcott’s “On Christmas Night”.

The Choir’s performance, including the contribution to certain sections by Bishopwearmouth Young Singers, did not disappoint either. Like “A Ceremony of Carols,” Chilcott’s work is based on a series of old texts. The moving opening was extremely well blended: the choir really showed off rich vocal textures that Chilcott creates. Again, the rhythmic nature of, for example, “Adam lay ybounden” was vibrantly communicated, contrasted with, say, “The Cherry Tree Carol” that was light, crisp and articulate. What this whole performance showed was a three-way understanding of singing and choral music: Chilcott’s (the composer), Murray’s (the conductor) and the performers (the choir and instrumentalists). The readings in between the carols were clear and well read by both young people and adults.

This concert not only had power and might yet delicacy and detail, but also it had a somewhat rustically modern feel. The applause at the end said it all. This was a wonderful evening packed with a lot of music. Unreserved congratulations must go to everyone involved.”

Philip Sanderson

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Song on the Tyne – for Macmillan Cancer Support

On Sunday 2nd July Bishopwearmouth Choral Society and the Bishopwearmouth Young Singers joined with Ryton Choral Society and the Tyne Theatre Stage School Choir at the Sage, Gateshead for a charity concert presented by the Rotary Club of Newcastle upon Tyne. The evening was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and a bucket collection raised over £1,200 in cash. The Rotary Club will soon be able to make a substantial donation to Macmillan incorporating the proceeds from the concert and other recent activities.

A crit of the performance has been kindly prepared by Philip Sanderson :-

“Despite it being one of the warmest days of the year so far, there was a healthy and eager turn out in Sage One, Sage Gateshead, for ‘Song on the Tyne’, led by David Murray, one of the North East’s most outstanding musicians. The concert was a collaborate venture as it was presented by the Rotary Club of Newcastle upon Tyne and featured a wonderful combination of the joint choirs of Ryton Choral Society and Bishopwearmouth Choral Society. The permanent conductor of both of these is David Murray. The Bishopwearmouth Young Singers also featured, along with the Tyne Theatre Stage School Choir. And that was not it: renowned soprano Sally Harrison also teamed up with Murray to add another dimension to this already varied programme. All ticket proceeds from the concerts and donations have gone to Macmillan Cancer Support.

The concert began with the combined choir of Bishopwearmouth and Ryton Choral Societies. Throughout the concert they did four substantial sets of popular songs by writers such as Randy Newman, Noel Coward, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Lennon and McCartney to name but a few. The common theme running through all of the pieces performed was that David Murray had specially arranged all of the music for four-part choir. For anyone who knows anything about choral writing, or indeed choral singing, they will appreciate that this is not an easy task. Yet Murray’s arrangements were superb. They were no mean feat either: imaginative part writing, intricate relationships between the different sections, some complex harmony and even more complex rhythms. All too often choral versions of pop songs end up where the sopranos have the tune and everyone else adds a bit of padding now and again. These were certainly not that. If Murray showcases some of his song book again it is really worth trying to hear it.

So how did the choirs handle these arrangements? The short answer is incredibly well. They did a marvellous job. From the outset every word could be heard: the diction was pristine. The choral sound was fantastic. It came across, I’m sure to everyone in Sage One, as complicated and impressive, but fun. The choirs did seem to be enjoying themselves, despite the concentration needed to get around the notes and the text. There were a number of special effects and Murray’s attention to detail was not just in the writing, but also in the performance under his excellent direction. The choirs really responded well. They were accompanied by fine instrumentalists which added a richness and deep colour to the scoring.

The Tyne Stage School Choir, under the direction of Liam Gilbert, made a contrasting contribution to the concert. They sang two traditional pieces and two contemporary medleys: one from “Into the Woods” and the other from “Wicked”. These complex pieces were impressively performed from memory and very much enjoyed by all.
Sally Harrison did not disappoint either. Her performances of Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Kern “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” were performed with sensitivity and were deeply felt, yet they possessed the power and control of an experienced opera singer. Harrison’s fine performances were beautifully accompanied by Murray.

Harrison then joined all of the evening’s performers with Murray’s arrangement of Simon’s and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” This not only had power and might, but also it had a somewhat rustically modern feel. The applause at the end said it all. This was a wonderful evening packed with a lot of music. Unreserved congratulations must go to everyone involved.”

Philip Sanderson.

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Intense jubilation and quiet contemplation

Our thanks to Moira McCarty for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on Saturday 8th April 2017, which was prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

“On a beautiful sunny evening in early April, an eager audience gathered in Sunderland Minster to hear the spring concert of the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, conducted by David Murray. We have come to expect nothing less than excellence from this society and we certainly weren’t disappointed! 

As usual, Murray had assembled a fine group of musicians who accompanied the choir with finesse, producing a well balanced sound throughout. Similarly, the soloists were of an extremely high calibre; we were treated to some unforgettable performances.

The programme consisted of two fine religious works by Mozart: the Solemn Vespers in the first half was succeeded by his magnificent unfinished Mass in C minor in the second.  

The Solemn Vespers, written during Mozart’s time of service to Archbishop Coloredo in Salzburg, was simply divine. The choir, accompanied by strings, trumpets, trombones, percussion and organ, gave us six movements of varying character. This was a moving interpretation of Mozart’s work, the collective performance evoking moments of intense jubilation and quiet contemplation. The Laudate Dominum, said to be one of Mozart’s finest pieces of writing for the solo voice, was particularly memorable and Laurie Ashworth gave a captivating performance. Her sweet clear voice perfectly complemented the chorus. The piece concluded with a rousing confident Magnificat, the choir displaying their fine blend, timing and attention to detail under the expert direction of Murray. 

Mozart’s unfinished Mass in C Minor was performed with crisp articulation and vibrant tone, capturing the different stylistic features of the piece, rousing fugues and large choruses contrasting with gentle almost angelic solos. 

The audience was totally engaged throughout the whole magnificent piece, but some particularly notable sections deserve a special mention. 

Ashworth’s soaring soprano solo in the Christe was particularly uplifting. In the Domine Deus, she was joined by mezzo soprano Samantha Price, producing a pyrotechnic duet that can only be described as mesmerising. The Et Incarnatus Est, featuring some of Mozart’s finest writing for woodwind, was a gentle contemplative solo by Ashworth, a total contrast to the rousing eight part Sanctus that followed. The attention to detail and perfect timing was evident in the challenging fugal Osanna sections which followed. This in turn was followed by  a terrific Benedictus from the four soloists, where Ashworth and Price were joined by tenor Richard Pinkstone and Baritone Alexander Robin Baker, also in magnificent voice . A reprise of the Osannna from the choir, all four soloists and full orchestra brought this thrilling performance to a close. The prolonged enthusiastic applause that followed was truly deserved. 

David Murray once again triumphed with this performance, leading his amateur Choral Society with such dedication and skill that time and time again he inspires them to perform at a level any professional choir would be proud of.  We are indeed privileged to have such a society on our doorstep in Sunderland and I would urge anyone to go along and support them.” 

Moira McCarty

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Deserves to be shouted about ……

Our thanks to Philip Sanderson for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on Saturday 3rd December 2016, which was prepared for and published in the Sunderland Echo :

“On the first Saturday in December Sunderland Minster was full of people eager to hear Bishopwearmouth Choral Society and Bishopwearmouth Young Singers. It was obvious that many concert-goers had heard this society before, conducted by David Murray, and had incredibly high expectations; this was confirmed by the friendly and warm pre-concert chit chat.

The concert opened with John Rutter’s All Bells in Paradise. This was delicate and detailed, both from the Choir and instrumentalists, but had the power and energy when needed. As with most of the concert, it was perfectly accompanied by the Society Accompanist, Eileen Bown, who was also joined by a string quintet and percussion. The players in this ensemble were first class, responding to Murray’s fine musicianship and attention to a musically blended and balanced sound. This remarkable mixture and timbre continued throughout the concert. Murray’s additional string scoring stood out in Four Old English Carols by Gustav Holst.

Another theme running through this wonderful concert was the music of Bob Chilcott. His rather quirky and clever music showed both Bishopwearmouth Choral Society and its Young Singers to be a choir that could quite easily grace many professional choirs with their control and ability. Both choirs had clearly been well-prepared by their respective leaders. The biggest Chilcott highlight was his rather tremendous version of the Twelve Days of Christmas. If you have not heard it, let us hope David Murray puts it on future Christmas programmes.

The Bishopwearmouth Young Singers, “although small in number, but big in heart” as described on the night, were exactly that. Their performance of Michael Head’s “What Christmas Means to Me,” was of particular rhythmic challenge, but so highly effective. Well done to them.

David Murray not only directed this incredible concert but also treated us to a work of his own he resurrected from a number of years ago. So long he would not tell us. He shared two numbers, Oh Ebenezer and The Carol Sequence and from his musical A Christmas Carol. Both were splendid.

All of this concert could be talked about as every item had something that had taken some considerable work and skill. However, one that must be pointed out is a piece by Edward Watson: Pies Cakes and Puddings. This was one of two novel pieces by this composer in the concert. Pies Cakes and Puddings required the choir to, one thinks, imitate a couple of kitchen gadgets. Exactly what gadgets these were I’m not sure: blender or electric whisk perhaps?   Whatever it was the tenors and basses did it very well.

If you know Bishopwearmouth Choral Society and their Young Singers are doing a concert, whatever your age, taste or preference of music that can be sung by a choir, I encourage you to go. This is a very musical choral society where the music matters, both from its singers and the fine instrumentalists providing the very colourful accompaniment. The adults and young people work together in a way where the immense musicality of its leadership is enjoyed by the listeners via the superb work of the singers and instrumentalists.

All of the music in this concert had a connection with English music, composers or themes. One particularly English thing about it, however, was the fact that the applause said it all: standing ovations and deep-felt praise. But beyond that, typically English: probably a few kind words and some politeness is all that ensues for a few weeks, when really this concert deserves to be shouted about in a truly non-English way. Thank you Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, Bishopwearmouth Young Singers and your associated instrumentalists – keep up this marvellous work. I hope to see any reader at the next concert. Happy Christmas.”

Philip Sanderson

Monday, December 5th, 2016

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