“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