Two familiar Sondheim stalwarts were joined by two relatively fresh-faces and one recent graduate on the QEH stage for an enchanting mix of some of the composer’s finest songs accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra. The concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 20 December 2013.
Watching the BBC Concert Orchestra play is to observe a band who clearly love playing the repertoire they have on the music stands in front of them. They’re not there to just ‘play the notes’. They immerse themselves in what’s going on to such an extent that the occasional swaying from one side to another isn’t so much unusual as de rigeur. And if they’re swept away by a particularly good solo performance, none of them hesitate to turn in their chairs and offer their grateful thanks. Despite the considerable size of the group – 30 strings and a whopping 47 wind, brass and percussion – this was an intimate affair and the gig benefited from that no end.
The near capacity audience helped, of course. Perhaps that should have been no surprise. Despite Sondheim naysayers who reckon the music is impenetrable (fools), a Sondheim programme with a classy billing like Kim Criswell and Maria Friedman (UK musical theatre royalty) is always going to pull in the crowds. And like the 2010 Proms birthday concert, the excitement such a crowd brings to proceedings only helps things along.
Some comparatively unheard of numbers were included in what could so easily have been a fairly run of the mill programme: Everybody Says Don’t, March to the Treaty House (Pacific Overtures) and More (Dick Tracy).
These combined with a breathtaking performance of Losing My Mind by Maria Freedman (who with conductor Keith Lockhart set up the perfect conceit for the fiendishly difficult but a hugely entertaining performance of Getting Married Today), the devishly handsome Michael Xavier with his irresistible vocal hints of Mandy Pantinkin paired with the infectiously warm welcome of Laura Michelle Kelly’s in Happiness made the event a special mid-Sunday afternoon treat.
Much applause too to the Maida Vale Singers and Stuart Matthew Price who proudly stepped forward for the ultimate MC numbers Beautiful Girls. Lovely work.
The real revelation of the concert was recent Guildford School of Acting graduate and winner of the Stephen Sondheim Student Society award Turlough Convery (pictured above). One to watch. An impressively mature performance by someone who belies his age. His performance of Calm (Forum) was a study in concert-performance characterisation. Watch him fly.