REVIEW: Heart Of Winter, A Song Cycle CD ✭✭✭✭✭

Heart Of Winter by Tim Connor and Liz BuddleHeart Of Winter
Studio Recording
Auburn Jam Records

In 1983, I sat in the Theatre Royal Sydney, watching Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance, the first half of which was Tell Me On A Sunday, a one woman song cycle, with lyrics by Don Black. This was my first experience of live musical theatre. The next day I bought the cast album, and it has remained a personal favourite ever since.

This year, I attended the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer Of The Year Award, where the incredible Courtney Bowman won singing a song called The Driving Lesson. Later we learned that the composer of that song had also won The Stiles + Drewe Prize for Best New Song, which came from a musical called Heart Of Winter. I have to say that I was really pleased that a copy of the cd for the show came across my desk for review.

Heart Of Winter is a song cycle for one woman, in much the same way as Tell Me On A Sunday. It’s the story of Kate, a primary schoolteacher in her mid-twenties. After three years, her relationship with boyfriend Adam is over. What comes next, comes in the form of 12 beautifully crafted songs which really delve into Kate. We get insight into her inner-most thoughts, as well as her game-face that she uses to face the world.

Heart Of Winter - A Song Cycle
Corrine Priest

Where Tell Me On a Sunday, belongs to a simpler time, where Lloyd Webber conquered the world with melody and Don Black supplied his usual panache lyrically, Heart Of Winter belongs to what I call the Wicked (or possibly now the Hamilton) generation. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye. It’s complex, but still compelling and addictive (it has been on here at least once a day since it arrived). Composer and Lyricist Tim Connor and Lia Buddle, who fashioned the story and dramaturgy, have realised that their market is going for musical theatre MTV so to speak. Like life, Kate’s story has layers, uncertainties, warmth, indifference, it’s real life but sung!

It’s a little bit adult to be sure, but we’re not talking about a fairy tale here. Songs like Back To School with the lyric line “I should teach them work is bullshit, having sex is disappointing, and Sambucca tastes much better downed in one” firmly places Kate in the Bridget Jones / Sex And The City generation. There’s a part of Kate that I think most people can relate to, and as the icing on the cake, the creators added extra flavour by making Kate from up north. The accent and associated language gives the whole thing a bit of added quirkiness, but also makes her all the more real. I dare you to listen to Colour In Cheeks  or Better Off Alone and not feel for Kate.

Tim Connor and Liz Buddle
Tim Connor and Lia Buddle.

Corrine Priest performs the role of Kate on the CD. It’s an incredible performance, she plays every song for truth, managing to not only make the songs a pleasure to listen to, but infusing them with enough emotion for a cast of one and a good many more. There’s an efficient economy in Connor’s writing, there’s not waffle or padding here. Like life the songs have the pulse of life – a bit manic and rushed, but when it counts calm and contemplative. Performing a song like The Driving Lesson requires super human effort, Priest delivers sharp diction, humour in spades, and also gives voices to other characters in the song, making it sound like a walk in the park. Impressive.

Heart Of Winter is recorded with just voice and piano. Connor’s accompaniment is rich, and performed with panache. I get the impression he’s one of those amazing pianists who doesn’t play an accompaniment but orchestrates with two hands, giving you the impression at some stages that you really are listening to more than just piano.

There’s a lot to recommend Heart Of Winter, I can’t wait to hear more of Connor and Buddle, with new writing talent like this, I am confident there are brilliant British musicals on the horizon. Needless to say I now have two solo female song cycles on my playlists!

PS. Although it’s not a long work, someone needs to put Kate on stage. I really want to see the physical personification of this incredible character. Anyone?

PPS. That was quick. Just been told that Heart of Winter will be performed as part of the FromPage2Stage showcases at the Tristan Bayes Theatre, 11th-19th November – book here!


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