Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Fresh air, food and fun with the Basses.

Continuing the celebrations of the 70th Anniversary of the Society, the Bass section organised a social evening in their own style on Saturday 12th May. The evening had three parts – exercise, food, and entertainment. The first element was a coast and country walk around Whitburn which was enjoyed by the majority of the party before they all returned refreshed and in good humour to Whitburn Parish Hall to enjoy the second element – locally sourced fish and chips – which satisfied the needs of the body before the final section.

The Basses were keen to perform but wanted to ensure audience participation in as many ways as you could imagine, so their chosen pieces included singing and action parts for the delighted audience. These were interspersed with a musical quiz which was designed to test mere mortals but the clever team who won were kind enough to share the celebration cake they were presented with.

The finale, and the climax of the evening, was a full dress performance of the Nun’s Chorus ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’ from The Sound of Music which was performed with panache. Everyone went home having enjoyed something that certainly was different.






‘and there was Light’

BCS rehearsing for their concert

Our thanks to William Harrison for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on Saturday 30th March 2019, which was prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

On Saturday 30th March, the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, conducted by David Murray, performed at Sunderland Minster. The evening marked another important milestone for the choir who are celebrating their seventieth anniversary and this performance of ‘The Creation’ by Joseph Haydn was a reprise of their first concert given in March 1949.

“On Saturday evening Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, conducted by David Murray, performed Haydn’s masterpiece, ‘The Creation’, written between 1797 and 1798. During the evening, listeners might have been forgiven for thinking they’d been transported back two hundred years to the first performance in Austria in 1799, such was the quality of the performance.

The orchestra presented the opening orchestral prelude, entitled ‘Representation of Chaos’, weaving their way successfully through the depiction of the nothingness that existed before the beginning of time. Throughout the performance this orchestra and chorus very effectively created an empty canvas onto which the rest of the images of the whole of Creation are painted throughout the piece. Between them Timothy Dickinson as Raphael, the chorus and orchestra created a wonderful state of suspense before the collective smile that broke out amongst the audience at the words, “and there was light”.

Soloists Timothy Dickinson, and Jorge Navarro Colorado, as Uriel, brought awe and wonder to the piece. Their stately telling of the story, their masterful control of dynamic and stylistic phrasing, coupled with the similarly controlled choral and orchestral sonorities, Laurie Ashworth as Gabriel was quite outstanding. Her virtuosity and exquisite control of the high notes was spectacular. Her second aria, ‘With Verdure Clad’ was a thing of beauty with the clarity of her voice and attention to musical detail a joy to behold.

Special mention must go to flautists Margaret Borthwick, Brian Stewart and Jill Hughes and clarinetists, Jennifer Murray and Andrew Smith, bassoonists Robin Kennard and Sharon Clatworthy who, in an ensemble of such quality, managed to stand out. They played complex flourished cadenzas and scales which were pristine, crisp and clear. Arias showed the soloists and the woodwind in perfect harmonious union.

Often church acoustics lose the details at the back of the hall but on this occasion every detail could be heard which is testament to the conductor, David Murray, who had clearly paid great attention to how the piece would, and should, be heard.

Mozart said, “Haydn alone has the secret, both of making me smile, and of touching my innermost soul”. The performers on Saturday evening succeeded in creating the sense of joy that Haydn was trying to capture in this most iconic piece of music. It would be easy to focus on the three soloists, but the orchestral and choral details in this performance were flawless. Every stylistic detail was in place and working in perfect harmony. This was an evening of pure joy which was present in both the performers and in the faces of the enraptured audience.”

William Harrison

Celebrating a Birthday

Having provided regular musical performances in Sunderland for the last 70 years since it held its first concert in March 1949, Bishopwearmouth Choral Society is celebrating its 70th Anniversary season with a reprise of that initial concert, Haydn’s Creation. For such a significant birthday there had to be a cake and this was shared at their last rehearsal before the concert after being cut by Christine Alder, Society Chairman, and David Murray, the Society’s Musical Director.

Many happy returns.

A Triumph for the Tenors

As their contribution to our 70th Anniversary season, the Tenors organised a musically themed social evening in The Peacock in Sunderland on Friday 1st March 2019. In a comfortable setting the expectant audience of choir members, family, and friends were treated to a show that they knew had been prepared with considerable effort.

Whilst the Tenors were well rehearsed, the audience were perhaps less so but enjoyed joining in a wide range of songs that were a different part of our musical heritage from ‘Peggy Sue’, through a ‘Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Ticket to Ride’ until they left singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

The group singing was interspersed by some fine solo items from individual tenors and they even provided their own accompaniment from the accomplished guitarists amongst them. Overall a very good night – our particular thanks to the organisers – and a much appreciated addition to the history of the Society.

Creation – all in one day

On Saturday February 9th 2019, Bishopwearmouth Choral Society invited fellow choral singers to join them in a singing workshop exploring Joseph Haydn’s Creation. This piece remains the greatest triumph of Haydn’s career and will be performed by the Society on March 30th as part of their 70th Anniversary season and to replicate their first concert in 1949.

The Singing Day provided an opportunity for some old members and friends  to come back and take part, and also to make new friends with singers from other societies, many of whom had come quite a long way to join in the experience.

The day was led very enthusiastically by Aidan Oliver, one of the UK’s leading choir directors, whose activities encompass the full range of symphonic, operatic, liturgical and contemporary music. He is the founding director of Philharmonia Voices, the professional choir which collaborates with the Philharmonia Orchestra on many of its most ambitious projects, while as guest chorus master he has worked with some of the UK’s leading choirs including the BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Singers, Huddersfield Choral Society and the Chorus of English National Opera.He is currently the director of Dulwich Choral Society and Director of Music at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, as well as Associate Conductor of the St Endellion Festival in Cornwall. He was recently appointed the new director of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.

Aidan provided an insight into Haydn’s substantial career and how ‘The Creation’ came into being, alongside rehearsing the singing, and emphasised that it was a joyful work which required joyful singing. Indeed it is his favourite work and by the end of the day many of the singers shared his enthusiasm for it.

Our thanks to Aidan for a very worthwhile day, to Eileen Bown for her accompaniment and to Sunderland Minster for the soup that fortified the singers at lunchtime. Those who were unable to attend certainly missed something very special.



A memorable evening with the Murrays

It was a fortunate audience, on Saturday 19th January, who were treated to a concert by this father and son duo who need no introduction to the Society. David Murray is Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s Musical Director and one of the North East’s best known pianists, having accompanied many well known names and playing on notable occasions. However this was a much more significant event as his son, Christopher, returned to the North East to play alongside him. Christopher is a member of the dynamic and charismatic Heath Quartet – winners of many prestigious awards – and is now earning himself a well deserved reputation on the national and international stage.

The combination of David and Christopher, cello and piano, and a varied programme provided a very memorable evening and a delightful contribution to the events of the Society’s 70th Anniversary season.

Moments of magnanimity and that of tranquil reflection….

Our thanks to William Horseman for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on Saturday 8th 2018, which was prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

On Saturday 8th December, the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, conducted by David Murray, performed at the Sunderland Minster. The evening marked an important milestone for the choir who celebrate their seventieth anniversary. It also marked a closing of the centenary of WWI : war and our response to it were central themes of the evening’s programme.

The concert opened with George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad – “Rhapsody for Orchestra” (1912). This piece offers a stark contrast to the composer’s fate in the First World War, as a nostalgic evocation of his homeland. The orchestral colouring and sweeping melodic lines heard tonight effectively conveyed this affect to create a reverent atmosphere from the outset.

For the next piece, we were introduced to the esteemed soloists Rachel Nicholls and Mark Nathan who played the angel and poet in Gerald Finzi’s In Terra Pax (1954). The work is a setting from Robert Bridges’ poem Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913 which Finzi uses to frame St Luke’s account of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds. Rich textures were abundant in tonight’s performance with the soloists assuredly handling the words and the chorus narrating the biblical story with clarity.

Ralph Vaughan William’s elegiac Dona Nobis Pacem (1936) filled the second half and the musical quality and control which David Murray brought to it was very impressive. The ensemble remained cohesive throughout and created moments of magnanimity and that of tranquil reflection. Textural details were made very clear and the sound effectively filled the space. Nicholls’ penetratingly beautiful voice splendidly rested on the sound of the ensemble and her lyrical tones would bring the piece to a close with its impassioned plea for peace.

A very successful concert from the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society in what was a powerful evocation of the human response to the tragedies of war.

Performance at Tall Ships event


On Thursday 12th July, the Society took part in the public performances on Sunderland Town Moor to entertain visitors to the Tall Ships event. Around 40 members of the choir were able to take part and reprised many of the numbers from their Great American Songbook concerts. Another first for the Society, an open air ‘gig’ complete with some ‘groupies’ in the audience surrounded by the masts of the Tall Ships.

Just click on the image for a much better view.


“The singing was tender, occasionally passionate, always exquisite”……..

Our thanks to Margaret Fenn for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on Saturday June 23rd 2018, which was prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

Sitting in a well filled Sunderland Minster on Saturday night, there was a palpable atmosphere of eager anticipation, coming both from the audience and performers. They were awaiting the arrival on stage of David Murray, the conductor, arranger and inspiration for this sparkling occasion entitled ‘The Great American Songbook’. He duly arrived and so it began with the Carpenters Sequence, a medley of their classic hits.

From the very first introductory falling phrase of ‘Long Ago’ the audience was mesmerized by the nostalgic yet sweet and expressive playing of the strings and the unforced vocal tone of the choir. The perfect ensemble of the choir, the well balanced inner parts cushioning the soaring soprano lines, and the rich tone of the male voices was like listening to a masterclass in choral part singing, all beautifully directed by David Murray, whose magical arrangements of those well- loved songs delighted us all. Tenors basses and altos were allowed to shine as well as sopranos, and this was especially effective in ‘ We’ve only just begun’: the nimble fingers of pianist Eileen Bown lifted the mood completely in ‘Sing’ and ‘Top of the World’.

Ben Laxton was the soloist for the evening. A young and very talented baritone, he presented a set of 3 Cole Porter Songs, accompanied by David. He entertained and impressed with his vocal colours and communicative powers: he was suave and cynical in ‘Just one of those things’, intimate and infused with longing in ‘Night and Day’ and ‘I get a kick out of you’ was delivered with humour and a well judged lightness.

The choir ended the first half with a Jerome Kern Medley, the richer writing here displaying their superb balance, dynamic range and keen ensemble. A lovely solo from violinist Martin Hughes evinced an almost seductive response from the choir, as they hung on every gesture of the conductor. The beguiling piano and bass in ‘Can’t help Lovin’ that Man’ then led into an animated and rhythmic’ Start all over again’ which finished the sequence with a brilliantly witty coda.

The second half started with A Gershwin Selection. The subtle inflections of ‘ The Man I love’ were aided by the chromatic twists of the inner parts, and this led into ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ which was delivered with great gusto. ‘They Can’t take that way from me’ led into a humorously confrontational ‘Let’s call the whole thing off’.

Ben Laxton presented a lovely mix of Rodgers and Hammerstein (Some enchanted evening), Jerry Herman (I won’t send Roses) and Leonard Bernstein (Something’s Comin’) showing his remarkable ease in this range of styles from three great American musicals of the twentieth century.

The last set of songs from the choir was taken from the David Murray Songbook, now becoming popular with choirs across the region. This set presented contrasting styles and themes, from the lyricism of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ to the emotional heart of the programme with ‘You’ve got a Friend’ and ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’. The singing was tender, occasionally passionate, always exquisite. Ben joined them for the final verse of ‘Bridge’ with ‘Sail on Silver bird’.

There were damp eyes in both audience and choir as this reached its spectacular conclusion. A wonderful concert of tremendous music given by a beautifully disciplined choir, superbly accompanied by Eileen Bown and a fabulous string quintet. Well done David Murray and Bishopwearmouth Choral Society!

Margaret Fenn

Haunting and evocative Requiem – joyous and exuberant Gloria

Our thanks to Philip Sanderson for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on Saturday March 24th 2018, which was prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

“Sunderland Minster was energised by being full of eager music lovers as this evening’s concert, given by Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, consisted of two important French choral works of the 20th century: the haunting and evocative Requiem by Maurice Durufle and Francis Poulenc’s joyous and exuberant Gloria. Both of these works, in their own individual way, presented the performers with considerable challenges which, under the assured direction of their inspirational conductor David Murray, were met with confidence and magnificent aplomb.

The Durufle Requiem is a work full of unusual and complex sonorities and the most sumptuous and, at times, obscure harmonic writing. It also consists of many changes of metre. Durufle’s Requiem has a subtlety and elusiveness which, combined with moments of great dramatic intensity, requires a finely attuned musical ear to achieve real tonal balance and symmetry. Murray’s exceptional musicianship enabled his performers to create moments of both splendour and pathos in equal proportions.

The choir were in their usual fine form. In the big climactic moments the singing was full-bodied and carried with ease over the emphatic orchestral textures. Particularly effective, however, were the Gregorian chant-like sections where the singing was in unison and often very lightly accompanied. Here Murray coaxed some really lovely singing from his choir, showing meticulous attention to tonal quality, blend and clarity of diction. And complex contrapuntal textures, as exemplified in the Kyrie, were always clearly defined.

The Domine Jesu Christe features many contrasts of mood and texture, starting with the eerie spookiness of the orchestral introduction. At the heart of this movement the writing for full orchestra and choir is dramatic, with constant changes of metre and key. This was performed with thrilling intensity and was the perfect contrast to the quieter sections which preceded and followed it, highlighting the warm lyricism of the altos and the pearlescent tone quality of the sopranos. Richard Goodings delivered his solos with confidence and assurance, showing real musicianship. And, again, Murray’s direction delivered an acute awareness of the essence of this music.

The strings were shown off to beautiful effect in the Sanctus where their lovely rippling accompaniment created a wonderful cushion of sound to support the choir.
The central core of the Requiem is the hauntingly exquisite Pie Jesu for mezzo soprano solo. Here the warmth and commitment of Isobel Chesman’s singing was beautifully underpinned by the nuanced and expressive solo cello of Andy Wardale.

The Lux Aeterna was hushed and fervent, followed by the Libera Me where after a sustained opening the music grew in intensity, leading to dramatic and exciting utterances of Dies Irae, Dies Illa, before the music subsided once again at the end. The Requiem concluded with an ethereal and delicate setting of In Paradisum. The opening section was sung by the sopranos with limpid purity of tone. They were joined by the full choir who sang with control, beautiful phrasing and unanimity of tone colour. This was a moving and reverent ending to a fine performance of a challenging work that can quite often go wrong. But here it certainly did not: every person involved should be proud of themselves.

Poulenc’s Gloria offers very different musical fare. It is full of strong musical contrasts typical of Poulenc’s style, where rhythmic vitality and élan combine with sumptuous lyricism and wide-ranging dynamics. There was certainly no anti-climax here with respect to Murray’s leadership of his combined forces in an idiomatic, stylistically authentic performance, which displayed to the full all the exuberance, beauty and idiosyncratic quirkiness of this exciting music.

The six movements, though relatively short, contain a variety of styles and textures. The majestic opening of the Gloria introduced a rhythmic movement sung with vibrant confidence by the choir. The buoyant Laudamus Te was full of joyous interplay between sopranos and tenors and altos and basses, where the singing was confident and the text clearly projected. The gently expressive Domine Deus gives us Poulenc at his most lyrical. Here a delicate orchestral introduction set the scene beautifully for the sweet-toned soprano of Rosanna Wickes who had stepped into the breach at the last moment due to the indisposition of the original soloist. She sang with exquisite purity of tone, controlled phrasing, and was accompanied by choir and orchestra with true sensitivity. The serene mood of this music was in sharp contrast to that of the Domine Fili Unigenite where the bright and breezy orchestral playing was perfectly matched by the vigour and drive of the choral singing.

The Domine Deus Agnus Dei brought us back once again into the serene lyricism of Poulenc’s sound world. The atmospheric orchestral opening, slow and harmonically ambiguous, was followed by a poignant melody in which the solo soprano soared effortlessly above the combined accompaniment of choir and orchestra. In the final Qui Sedes the majestic opening contrasted with the lively rhythm of the following section. This is Poulenc at his most energetic and animated and both choir and orchestra revelled in the buoyancy and driving rhythms of the music. The final section achieved a real sense of stillness, combining beautifully mellifluous orchestral playing with sustained and even-toned singing from choir and soloist to bring the work to a tranquil close.

The performers are to be congratulated on providing an appreciative audience with an evening of high-quality sophisticated music making from a fine choir, excellent soloists and orchestra and a superb musical director.

It’s not so long ago that Sunderland put in a bid for City of Culture status. Sadly this excellent bid was unsuccessful but the impetus of that process has led to the development of a number of plans and strategies to raise the cultural profile of the city. Culture means many things to many people, but this evening’s commendable performance surely is a clear indicator that culture is alive and well in the City of Sunderland. Some may say that classical music is rather niche. That is up for debate but it is nevertheless important that the cultural regeneration of this city encompasses all creative and artistic endeavours across all genres. I’m sure someone in a cultural role has attended a Bishopwearmouth Choral Society Concert. If not, then perhaps, Bishopwearmouth Choral Society, could invite them to your next wonderful evening of music making to share what a treasure Sunderland has in its midst.”