Company Company; Being Alive
Anyone Can Whistle Anyone Can Whistle
Follies Could I Leave You; Broadway Baby
Sondheim Three Sondheim Waltzes
Sweeney Todd A Little Priest; Johanna
Gypsy Some People
Merrily We Roll Along Old Friends
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum Overture
Company The Little Things You Do Together
West Side Story Something’s Coming; Balcony Scene; A Boy Like That
Passion Loving You
A Little Night Music Send In The Clowns
Into The Woods Giants In The Sky; Agony
Company Getting Married Today
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum Comedy Tonight
Louise Dearman, Nadim Naaman, Jeremy Secomb and Caroline Sheen (vocalists), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Martin Yates
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Friday 14 January 2022
Written by Richard Whitehouse photos (c) Beki Smith (above) and Florian Wende (below)
This overview of Stephen Sondheim was inevitably leant poignancy by the composer’s death in November but this, in turn, only served to emphasize the extent of his achievement across more than half a century and at least 16 stage-works; across the course of which, he brought the American musical to a new level of sophistication. The present selection further provided a reminder of that additional depth and richness made possible when the instrumental writing is allotted to full orchestra, of which the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was a keen advocate.
A versatile conductor, Martin Yates launched the evening via a bustling take on the Overture to Follies, Sondheim’s double-edged homage to Broadway’s ‘golden age’, before all four of tonight’s vocalists took the stage for the title-song from Company – its edgy expectancy offset by the fervency of that musical’s ‘Being Alive’ rendered by Nadim Naaman. Jeremy Secomb brought real poise to the title-song of initially ill-fated Anyone Can Whistle; Louise Dearman was defiance itself in ‘Could I Leave You?’, while Caroline Sheen teased out the insouciance of a further Follies song ‘Broadway Baby’. The CBSO duly gave its all in the lively and not-a little sardonic waltzes as taken from Anyone Can Whistle, then Dearman and Secomb proved well complemented as scheming barber and piemaker in ‘A Little Priest’ from Sweeney Todd; Naaman’s pathos in ‘Johanna’ a reminder of this musical’s compassionate side. Sheen sassily projected Sondheim’s lyrics to Jule Styne’s music in ‘Some People’ from Gypsy, then all four singers rounded-off the first half with the barbed ‘Old Friends’ from Merrily We Roll Along.
A lively traversal of the Overture to A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum set up the second half in suitably racy fashion, with Dearman and Secomb bringing real piquancy to Company’s edgy duet ‘The Little Things You Do Together’. Three numbers from West Side Story reminded one of Sondheim’s peerless lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s music – Naaman’s inquiring take on ‘Something’s Coming’ followed by his and Sheen’s rapturous showing for the ‘Balcony Scene’ (a.k.a. ‘Tonight’), the latter joining Dearman for the searing medley ‘A Boy Like That / I Have A Love’ as forms this musical’s emotional apex. Not that Secomb’s unforced eloquence in ‘Loving You’ from Passion proved an emotional come-down; neither did Dearman in conveying the bittersweet soul of ‘Send In The Clowns’ from A Little Night Music – Sondheim’s most recognizable melody. Two numbers now from multi-layered Into The Woods – Naaman suitably astounded in ‘Giants In The Sky’; he and Secomb pointing up the fanciful imagery of ‘Agony’. Dearman and Sheen joined him for the heady triple-take of ‘Getting Married’ from Company, then the advertised programme concluded with the quartet in the uproarious ‘Comedy Tonight’ such as unerringly sets the tone for Forum as a whole.
Those who might have been bemoaning the absence of Sunday In The Park With George (its first act arguably Sondheim’s most perfect achievement) would have been reassured with the ecstatic ‘Sunday’ that brought the evening to its close; one in which the contribution from the CBSO played no small part in conveying the sheer range of Sondheim’s enduring creativity.
For more information on this concert you can visit the CBSO website. Meanwhile click on the artist names for information on Martin Yates, Louise Dearman, Nadim Naaman, Jeremy Secomb and Caroline Sheen. To read more about Stephen Sondheim himself, visit the Stephen Sondheim Society