Royal Festival Hall, London
Sondheim on Sondheim will be broadcast on 20 March 2018 at 7.30pm on BBC Radio 3
Sondheim On Sondheim, conceived by James Lapine, is not just a series of songs, it includes footage and commentary from Sondheim himself. There is a mixture of biographical footage as well as more musically descriptive passages which meld into the live performances.
Particularly effective moments were when Sondheim described the various opening numbers for A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum before they were sung live, and when he explained the musical complexities of Sweeney Todd as Julian Ovenden gave a rousing rendition of ‘Epiphany’.
The cast of this concert were sublime, with some outstanding ensemble moments including the jazzy version of West Side Story’s ‘Something’s Coming’. Claire Moore and Liz Callaway were both spectacular, with their touching mash-up of ‘Losing My Mind’ and ‘Not a Day Goes By’ being a stand out of the night, as well as their solo performances of ‘Send in the Clowns’ and ‘Buddy’s Eyes’. Ovenden showed off his powerful voice in a number of songs, especially the glorious ‘Finishing the Hat’ from Sunday in the Park with George.
I felt that Rebecca Trehearn and Tyrone Huntley were underused in the concert. However, Trehearn’s rendition of ‘I Read’ and Huntley’s ‘Being Alive’ were absolutely wonderful. Both performers are firm favourites of mine and it was joyous to hear them backed by a full, flowing orchestra, even if it was only for a brief period. Damian Humbley replaced Ben Forster and provided some fantastic vocal moments, namely during ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc’.
Aside from the vocal performances, the BBC Concert Orchestra were splendid, however at times, especially in the first act, the balance between them and the performers just didn’t work and led to very uneven sound. At points it seemed like the microphones were not working at all whilst at others it sounded over amplified.
Overall this was a beautifully moving concert with some light hearted moments as well as some more moving flashes such as when Sondheim describes his relationship with Oscar Hammerstein and talks candidly about receiving a letter from his mother saying she wished she never birthed him. I left the Royal Festival Hall in awe of the performers, in love with Sondheim’s music and connected to him as a person. Of course we just saw him on screen but in his candid moments he came across as a genuinely kind person who adores music- something which we can all relate to.