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