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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

‘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