Review: Burt Bacharach – What the World Needs Now

Simon Hale is present when the CBSO pay tribute to a legendary composer.

It takes a concert programme of more than 25 of his songs and orchestrations to show just how prolific Burt Bacharach was as a composer of popular music.

From top ten hits to Oscar winning film scores, his partnership with Hal David produced melodies that have become standards in the easy listening repertoire.

The CBSO, in association with GRB Concerts, turned to lush rhythm to pay tribute to the musical legend who died this year at the age of 94.

Most members of the Symphony Hall audience looked mature enough to have remembered Bacharach’s first chart-topping success back in 1957 with Magic Moments, sung by the crooning baritone Perry Como.

Graham Bickley sang the song with verve following the evening’s opener, a lively orchestration of What the World Needs Now along with a medley of other hits as conducted by Richard Balcombe.

Aware that the majority of the audience were aficionados, Bickley said he hoped he and his fellow singers – Abbie Osmon, Katie Birtill and Laura Tebbutt – would convert others before giving fascinating introductions to some of the songs.
When Anyone Who Had a Heart, for instance, was at number one in the charts for Cilla Black in 1964, two other versions joined it sung by Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield, both regular collaborators with Bacharach.

Close to You, a big hit for The Carpenters in 1970, was originally written for the actor Richard Chamberlain while he was playing Dr Kildare; while it was Bacharach himself who turned lyricist by coming up with the title to the song Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head in his Oscar-winning score for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – even though there was no rain in the film.

All four singers came together to perform Raindrops following a superb rendition of the catchy instrumental track South American Getaway, returning for Arthur’s Theme, The Best That You Can Do towards the end of the evening.

Movie connections included the themes to What’s New Pussycat? and Alfie, while the title song to the 1968 musical Promises Promises sung convincingly by Bickley provided an example of Bacharach’s writing for Broadway shows.

The excellent female trio sang all their songs with passion and precision in their contrasting styles, whether singly or in harmony. Stand-out highlights included Birtill singing I Say A Little Prayer, Osmon’s Close To You, and Birtill and Tebbutt’s beautiful A House is Not a Home and One Less Bell to Answer, both sung as a duet as made famous by Barbra Streisand in 1968 when she dueted with herself on an American TV show.

Burt Bacharach would have been thrilled by the standing ovation and sustained applause at the close by aficionados and converts alike.

The CBSO returns to Symphony Hall on Wednesday, November 8th at 2.15pm for a varied programme of music including Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 3 (Scottish), Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with Ray Chen as soloist, Aileen Sweeney’s Glist, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro: