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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

‘Heartbreakingly moving’

The following review of the St.Matthew Passion concert on Saturday 12th April 2014 was prepared by Keith Nixon for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

“J.S. Bach’s monumental choral masterpiece, the St. Matthew Passion, depicting the final hours of Jesus’ life and death, held the audience at Sunderland Minster transfixed for more than three hours.

The Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, on this occasion augmented by its Ryton counterpart, is well known for its magnificent renditions of choral pieces but this performance was simply breathtaking. A stunning line-up of young soloists drawn from DurhamUniversity and across the North-East beautifully complemented two professional singers on top form.

Conductor David Murray maintained a flowing pace throughout with the narrative action propelled forward by tenor Daniel Norman in the role of the Evangelist. Christ was exquisitely performed by Philip Smith – his impassioned delivery of the words ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ was heartbreakingly moving.

In a performance of such high quality, one moment stood out. The heart-wrenching ‘Erbarme Dich’, introduced by violinist Martin Hughes’ aching lament, was delivered with total conviction by mezzo-soprano Sarah Ryan. Hughes’ fine playing was typical of the orchestra whose members accompanied the arias with delicate care and refinement.

Among many other aria highlights were: Camilla Harris’ ‘Aus Liebe’; Elen Lloyd Roberts’ ‘Ich will dir mein Herze schenken’; Ben Rowarth’s ‘Komm, susses Kreuz’; Simon Lee’s Geduld; Marnie Blair’s ‘Buss und Reu’ and Polly Leech’s ‘Können Tränen’.

The choirs were in full voice, singing with focus and clarity, switching emotions effortlessly from the rage of a bloodthirsty mob to the anguish and pain of Christ’s disciples. The chorales were movingly sung and the singers sounded as fresh at the end of the concert as they were at the beginning – no mean feat in such a demanding and challenging work.

The final chorus (‘Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder’) was followed by a collective silence – a time for the audience to reflect on what had been a spiritually moving experience and a triumph for all concerned.”

Keith Nixon

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Angst as well as solace.

The following is a review by Keith Nixon of the concert held on the 7th December 2013, and reproduced here with his kind permission.

“An enthusiastic and appreciative audience braved the freezing cold weather to attend the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s traditional December concert. They were richly rewarded with a heart-warming performance.

The society’s inspirational director, David Murray, took the opportunity to display his multi-faceted musical talents – accompanist, solo pianist and conductor – and he excelled at all three.

The concert began with four songs from Schumann’s first Liederkreis cycle, movingly sung by Richard Gooding. Murray then showed off his dazzling pianistic skills with three of Brahms’ late piano pieces before donning his accompanist’s hat again to perform (with clarinettist Jennifer Murray) four Christmas songs by Cornelius. Jessica Holmes’ sweet-voiced soprano was ideally suited to these delightful pieces.

So far the choral society had had a pretty easy time of it but all that was to change in the second half! The German Requiem by Brahms is one of the great choral masterpieces and a tall order for any choir. Unlike traditional settings of the requiem mass, the composer chose to set texts from the Lutheran Bible in vernacular German. Murray opted to conduct the version with piano duet accompaniment, magnificently played by Eileen Bown and Venera Bojkova.

The particular challenge to the choir in this performance, therefore, was that they could not hide behind the usual rich orchestration. They responded magnificently with first rate warmth, clarity and intonation. In fact, they sometimes grabbed the listener by the throat, practically spitting out “Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras”. In contrast, their lovely rendition of the sublime “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” was intensely moving. The soloists (Gooding and Holmes) responded to the sensitivity of the text with fervour.

However, it was the choir that delighted the audience the most. David Murray must be thrilled to have a group of singers that, in such a challenging work, was able to convey wonderfully the angst as well as the solace that Brahms brought to the music. The warm applause that followed the final movement was thoroughly deserved.”

Keith Nixon

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Carmina Burana at the Sage

It is not often that such a large number of performers come together but when they do you can expect something special. Orchestra North East, Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, Ryton Choral Society, Bishopwearmouth Young Singers and singers from King’s School Tynemouth all combined to make the performance of Carmina Burana quite memorable on Sunday 7th July 2013 at the Sage, Gateshead. David Murray’s conducting brought the piece to life and all of the soloists – Laurie Ashworth, Alexander Robin Baker and Peter Vasey – made their own special contribution. The rest of the programme was well  chosen and everyone – performers and audience alike – went home very moved by the experience.

The ‘official’ review of the concert was prepared by Gavin Engelbrecht and published by the Northern Echo on Thursday 14th July 2013 :-

” The Orchestra North East, joined by the Bishopwearmouth and Ryton choral societies along with a children’s chorus,
showcased the collective wealth of the region’s musical talent with a rare outing of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

Performing under the baton of David Murray to a packed audience at The Sage Gateshead, the orchestra opened the evening with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Puccini’s Preludio Sinfonica in A Major.

Proceedings warmed up further with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs, fronted by guest soloist Alexander Robin Baker, whose warm baritone filled the acoustic space of Hall One, with sensitive backing from the choruses.

Carmina Burana exploded into life with the singers belting out O Fortuna, as timpanist Andy Booth beat his instruments for all they were worth. The opening movement drew rapturous applause, as did many of the remaining 23.

Murray did a brilliant job of marshalling the enormous musical forces, keeping a keen control of the dynamic rhythm changes.

Baker sang lustily as he welcomed the warmth of the sun, while the choruses relished every moment of Ecce gratum (Behold the pleasant Spring) The sopranos soared to the heavens in a lilting Floret silva nobilis.

Singing in a high falsetto, Peter Vasey did a brilliant take on the roasting swan, twisting his neck around to contemplate the gnashing teeth of the tavern guests who taunt him with the line “now black and roasting fiercely”.

The children’s choir, for their part, rose to the occasion with a delightful delivery of Amor volat undique.

Soprano Laurie Ashworth sang with ringing clarity, fearlessly hitting the high Cs of Dulcissime.

It was a performance of visceral intensity delivered with professional flair.”

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The perfect tonic for a winter-weary audience

The following is a review of the concert held on 23rd March 2013 prepared by Keith Nixon and published in The Sunderland Echo on the 28th March 2013.

“Three cheers for the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society! Their Spring concert proved to be the perfect tonic for a winter-weary audience.

Conductor David Murray chose an all-English programme: two ceremonial works, an Elgar favourite and a Walton blockbuster. It proved to be an inspired choice as the high quality of music-making demonstrated.

The concert began with a performance of Walton’s Crown Imperial. The orchestra delighted in the pomp and circumstance of the march and it proved to be the perfect introduction to the concert.

Elgar’s Serenade for Strings is a lovely work, the very essence of the English countryside. Murray brought out a terrific performance from his players: the slow movement, in particular, was beautifully phrased.

The coronation anthem I Was Glad by Parry is a rousing piece and gave the choir the perfect opportunity to show off their vocal range. The cries of Vivat! never fail to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention. But this was merely an appetiser to the main course of the evening – Belshazzar’s Feast.

Walton’s oratorio, telling the story of the fall of Babylon and its ungodly king, is one of his most popular works but, with its cross-rhythms and unusual harmonies, is very difficult to perform well. This proved to be no problem for Murray’s performers who were equally at home with its reflective, unaccompanied sections and its fortissimo exclamations of delight. The high standard of the choir continues to attract excellent soloists and Matthew Brook was superb as the narrator. His vocal command was tremendous and he had a real sense of drama which brilliantly complemented the choir’s energy.

The final chorus summed up the whole evening: Make a joyful noise! This could not have been more appropriate as it was truly a joyful and uplifting concert.”

Keith Nixon

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

We asked … and you kindly answered!

At our last concert we provided a short questionnaire to everyone in the audience. The aim was to research our audience and the publicity we use for concerts. We are very grateful that many of you were happy to take the time to complete this and thought that you should be made aware of what it told us.

Only three questions were asked : Which post-code have you come from (first part only to protect your confidentiality), How did you hear about the concert, and What age group are you in?

As we would expect the majority of our audience were from Sunderland – or at least five of its post-codes – but others came from Washington, North and South Shields and the prize for the furthest travelled goes to those who came from Stowmarket! Of these most (77%) had heard of the concert from a Society member, with a small number hearing from a friend, our web-site, a previous programme, or from the new banner which was outside the venue. Especial thanks for telling us your age group – 53% of the returns admitted to being over 65 and 17% were under 35.

Once again the Society would like to thank all of those who left a reply for us to consider. We are much obliged.

Monday, December 17th, 2012

December Concert Review by Keith Nixon

The following is a review by Keith Nixon of the concert held on the 1st December 2012, previously submitted to the Sunderland Echo and reproduced here with his kind permission.

The Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s traditional December concert treated the audience to a pre-Christmas fare of musical delights but included a turkey which was not to everyone’s taste.

Conductor David Murray chose an all-Vaughan Williams programme for thefirst half: The Lark Ascending and An Oxford Elegy. It was a curious choice as the summery music and words sat uncomfortably with an audience wrapped up against the freezing weather. Martin Hughes excelled in the violin solo part of The Lark, a mini-concerto which leaves the soloist highly exposed (literally) at the end.

An Oxford Elegy, set to poems by Matthew Arnold about an academic wishing to lead the life of a gipsy, is very rarely performed – and deservedly so. Andrew Scott narrated it well with wonderful expression, which helped to bring the piece to some sort of life but the choir did not seem comfortable with Vaughan Williams’ pseudo-ethereal wordless mutterings and Arnold’s dull text.

The second half of the concert, however, showed the choir in its true colours. They seemed delighted to trade in their spluttering V W and they found the perfect vehicle in Bob Chilcott’s high-octane arrangement of carols. The Coventry Carol was beautifully sung while the Sussex Carol was full of energy and fun.

Soprano Clare Tunney’s contribution to the concert delighted the audience. Her flawlessly executed phrasing in The Little Road to Bethlehem had everyone spellbound. Clare clearly has a very bright future ahead of her and it was a pity that her performance here was restricted to only three carols.

The concert finished with Chilcott’s take on The Twelve Days of Christmas, in which the ‘five gold rings’ refrain appears in an array of guises. The choir revelled in its humour and sent the audience home in high spirits.

Keith Nixon

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Flaming good!

A review of our Jubilee Concert, prepared by Keith Nixon, was published in the Sunderland Echo on Wednesday 20th June under the headline of ‘Flaming good! The full review appears below by kind permission of the author :

“On the day that the Olympic torch came to Sunderland, the city’s premier choir, the BishopwearmouthChoral Society, gave a gold medal performance in their jubilee concert.

Conductor David Murray chose a programme which was as celebratory as the occasion demanded. His choir (and the audience) got the concert off to a rousing start with two verses from the National Anthem. And for true pomp and circumstance, forget Elgar – it’s Bach and Handel every time.

Bach’s Ein Feste Burg Cantata, based on Luther’s famous chorale, needs a performance of powerand majesty. This proved to be no problem for Murray’s performers and the moving final chorale was beautifully judged both for pace and feeling.

Handel wrote his four anthems for the coronation of George II in 1727 and they were the perfect choice for the evening. The choir excelled in the moving Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened and the joy of singing Zadok the Priest was clear for all to see
and hear.

However, David Murray kept his best hand for the second half of the concert – a truly outstanding performance of Bach’s Magnificat. This is Bach at his grandest, a piece of sheer splendour and jubilation. The choir was terrific throughout, not only in the opening chorus but especially in the very fast Fecit Potentiam and the final Gloria.

The soloists (Jessica Holmes, Ben Williamson, Joseph Cornwell and Adrian Powter) were excellent. They responded to the sensitivity of the text in all three pieces with controlled passion and fervour. The orchestra played with great feeling: delicate woodwind accompanying the arias and ceremonial trumpets gloriously raising the roof. However, it was the choirwhich really delighted the audience. The warm applause at the end of this memorable concert was richly deserved.”

Keith Nixon

Thursday, June 21st, 2012