Viewing entries in

Hayley Westenra – River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of (Compilation Review)


Hayley Westenra – River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of (Compilation Review)

Australian music lovers are often criticised for adopting New Zealand artists as their own. Well, in our defence, there is only the very slightest of water-filled ditches between our great nations so you can see how the distinction can be blurred. After all, the great city of Auckland is closer to my home on the east coast of Australia than the city of Perth is on Australia’s western coast. Despite this physical closeness, we don’t know everything that is happening across the pond and as such, I had no idea that Hayley Westenra was a New Zealander when I first heard the Westenra/Bocelli duet of Dell’Amore Non Si Sa. 

As per usual, I digress, only to raise Westenra’s heritage, however, as I was recently researching a song called Pokarekare; a beautiful unofficial national anthem for New Zealand and the correlation hit me. Naturally, I decided to delve deeper into Westenra’s back catalogue and upon listening to this compilation, I was so impressed that I had to immediately pen this review. It isn’t often that I feel so compelled, therefore, dear reader, I ask that you join me as I explore what can arguably be considered one of the greatest career perspective releases I have ever come across. 

Pokarekare Ana is simply stunning. The song itself is remarkable and Westenra performs it beautifully. An absolutely sensational choice to open this compilation with. It is so revered in New Zealand that many consider it, just as Australians consider Icehouse’s Great Southern Land, to be an unofficial national anthem. Pokarekare Ana is, at its core, an adorable song that has stood the test of time.

River Of Dreams (Adapted From “The Four Seasons: Winter, RV 297”) is a beautiful song and while I’ve never heard a poor rendition of this classic, there is no doubt that Westenra’s interpretation is one of the very best I’ve heard. Her vocal is so delicate as it soars above the musicality. Absolutely incredible! 

Dell’Amore Non Si Sa (feat. Andrea Bocelli) is incredible and I love Bocelli’s vocal inclusion but I can’t help but wonder if the mix could have been better. While I don’t know the history of this specific recording, it almost sounds in places as though the vocals were recorded in different recording studios and mixed at a later date; not an uncommon occurrence, of course, but one that can be disconcerting at times if not done well. Regardless, it’s still a lovely song and one that most certainly deserves its place on this career perspective release.

Shenandoah is a beautiful song that really showcases Westenra’s sensational soprano vocal. 

The Water Is Wide is incredibly relaxing and really demands one sit and listen for this is most certainly not background music. Music, really, doesn’t get much better than this. Stunning!

Songbird is one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded. Christine McVie certainly wrote a timeless classic and while I absolutely adore the Fleetwood Mac original, Westenra has performed it masterfully ensuring respect is paid to the original while simultaneously making it her own. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think I enjoy Westenra’s interpretation more than I do the original. 

Both Sides Now is a great Joni Mitchell song. Mitchell’s version is timeless, but again Westenra takes a classic to another level and makes it her own. Given so many of the world’s greatest musicians have recorded this classic it is difficult to stand out from the pack, but Westenra’s interpretation would most certainly be in my top 10 recordings of this song. 

Ave Maria blows me away every time I hear it, regardless of who’s singing it, but this is one very special interpretation that reaches into your soul and takes you on a musical journey. It is one of the finest interpretations of this timeless classic. 

Benedictus is an incredibly beautiful song, leaving me somewhat speechless each time I listen to it. 

Amazing Grace is one of those songs that I have heard too many times and it no longer sounds amazing to me. That said, Westenra’s vocal presentation is spot on with this interpretation.

Danny Boy, in a similar way to Amazing Grace, has been overplayed and I’m sure the Irish will be bitterly disappointed when I say that I’ve never found the song appealing. That said, Westenra’s interpretation is one of the best I have ever heard. 

Summer Rain shifts the tempo and while the jolt to the system can be distracting at first, Summer Rain is a solid original pop-inspired crossover written by Westenra and Jeffrey B Franzel. I do, however, feel Westenra’s vocal gets lost in the musicality. Nevertheless, it’s a great song that is truly worthy of inclusion on this compilation; although a remix, with a small decibel reduction in the instrumental elements, would be appreciated. 

Never Say Goodbye (Adapted From “Pavane, M. 19”) is magnificent!

Grannies Schicchi: O mio babbling caro is a timeless soprano classic and Westenra’s is a solid addition to the lineup of interpretations. However, I feel that Westenra doesn’t quite hit the high notes as well as I’ve heard from other artists. That isn’t to say that this rendition is bad, just that I feel it could have been better. 

May It Be/Fellowship Of The Ring is an Enya masterpiece and it really takes courage to cover Enya for her musical prowess is incomparable. Well, Westenra not only covered it, but she covered it incredibly well. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I still prefer the Enya original, but as I listen to Westenra’s interpretation, I don’t find myself wishing that I was listening to Enya. That, in itself, speaks volumes. 

Ave Maria is beautiful. A favourite of mine and while this is the second interpretation of Ave Maria, on this compilation, Westenra doesn’t disappoint as she hits all the high notes, those that I feel she missed on Grannies Schicchi: O mio babbling caro, perfectly.

Now Is The Hour (Po Atarau/Haere Ra) is a song I’m not overly familiar with and while I would have preferred Ave Maria to be the closing track on this compilation, Now Is The Hour is lovely and encourages me to not only listen to The Very Best Of Hayley Westenra again, but also explore her remarkably diverse and enjoyable catalogue of music. 

Overall, Westenra’s River Of Dreams - The Very Best Of is just that; the very best of Hayley Westenra. The recordings, the mixes, the mastering, all leave me in pure amazement as to how a sound so pure can be reproduced with such perfection. Sonically, it is amongst some of the best recordings I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to and it isn’t far-fetched for me to say that I could listen to this masterpiece on repeat indefinitely.

Of course, you too can enjoy this masterful release, if not via the exquisite Apple Music stream, then via the iTunes Store. Alternatively, River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of Hayley Westenra is available on CD.


'O sole mio (Song Review)


'O sole mio (Song Review)

'O sole mio is one of the most renowned and respected songs in classical music. Written by Giovanni Capurro and Eduardo di Capua in 1898, 'O sole mio has become one of the greatest and most enduring love songs ever penned as well as an unofficial national anthem for Italy. It is, without doubt, a favourite of mine and each time I hear it, in its original Neapolitan tongue, I can’t help but be moved emotionally as the hairs raise on the back of my neck and I feel closer to an inexpressible spiritual self. 

My earliest memories of 'O sole mio was in 1990 following the release of The Three Tenors - In Concert. To this day, I still class this performance as a defining moment in music history. Pavarotti, of course, is most often connected with this song and for good reason, he mastered the song’s intricacies better than anyone else ever had and arguably ever will. The comical oneupmanship that Carreras and Domingo tried to achieve over Pavarotti during the encore is priceless. It is a moment, forever captured between contemporaries, that removed the snobbishness from classical music and ensured the human element remained front and centre. I’m certain there are classical music lovers that will detest this breakdown of discipline within the field, yet it is this defining moment that ensured I would forever have a love of classical music and the tenor vocal.

Over the years there have been countless recordings of this timeless masterpiece. Some well known, others a little more obscure. There are instrumental versions and English language interpretations such as the adequate yet lacklustre Down From His Glory. I must admit, however, that I thoroughly enjoy the use of the melody on It’s Now Or Never. Both Dean Martin’s and Connie Francis’ interpretations are superb, but I find that part of my interest in classical music, especially that which is lyrically based, is that I don’t need to understand the language in order to emotionally connect with a song. Regular readers would note that I’ve never been attracted to the literal meaning and interpretation of lyrics. For some people, they need to understand the lyrics in order to connect with the song. For me, I find that the vocal is akin to an instrument. Truthfully, we shouldn’t judge how others or ourselves choose to appreciate music for it’s subjective and the only thing that really matters is how the music makes us feel. 

While reviewing every possible recording of 'O sole mio would be arguably a lifetime’s work, I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the top 10 renditions ever recorded, from those that I have heard.

Purists will likely want to lynch me with this first recommendation. No, this certainly isn’t your classical interpretation, but this punk cover is brilliantly done and subjectively brings a smile to my face whenever I listen to it.  

I must admit, this rendition is a bit of an odd choice as I didn’t really connect with the pop-styling when I originally heard this recording, but it has a tendency to grow on you and I’ve become rather smitten with it. If it were not for its classical and operatic origins, both this rendition and the one prior would have been perfect interpretations, proving, to me anyway, that sometimes we need to look beyond our preconceived notions of what art is and should be and therefore we should not always limit creativity to specific genres. 

This is a gorgeous rendition with an interesting introduction. Lisa Ono has an exceptionally smooth and adorable vocal and I’m simply blown away with the instrumental aspects of the song. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

This is the first in my list to present the song in its original classical form and Il Volo performs 'O sole mio beautifully with a modern styling that, while similar to the original and most popular renditions, is unique and an absolute pleasure to listen to. 

I love the classical guitar and Michael Marc has given us a rendition that I could listen to on repeat for eternity. He truly makes that guitar sing with so much emotion that lyrics are frankly not needed. Absolutely beautiful!

Mark Vincent’s interpretation is bold and confronting. You’ll stop what you’re doing just to listen to this one as Vincent’s control over his vocal is nothing short of amazing. The musicality, however, has a tendency to get in the way and I personally feel that the instrumental aspect could have been reduced by a decibel or two, thereby allowing Vincent’s vocal to remain prominent throughout. Nevertheless, it is a minor quibble in an otherwise exceptional interpretation.  

Enrico Caruso is arguably the reason why we’re here. His was the first mainstream release, having been released in 1916, and remains as timeless as the song itself. The fact that we have a recording this good, after this long, really amazes me and I only wish that we could have heard Caruso’s vocal in a more recent era when the recording equipment could have adequately captured his entire range. He would have given Pavarotti a run for his money, no doubt! 

Andrea Bocelli is one of my all-time favourite tenors and he did a fantastic job on this interpretation that is only seconded to Pavarotti’s remarkable solo recording of the song. 

As far as modern recordings go, Luciano Pavarotti’s version of 'O sole mio is arguably incomparable. It is a defining moment for the song and one of the greatest recordings Pavarotti ever made. It’s absolutely flawless!

Okay, so perhaps this isn’t the greatest version of the song, as there are some foolhardy antics throughout this live performance, but if a song, and music in general, is to invoke an emotional response, then the Encore from the Three Tenors’ landmark 1989 Concert certainly fulfils that brief. Hence, it is deserving of its place at the top of my list for I can’t help but smile when I watch the concert or listen to the recording. 

Well, dear reader, they’re my top 10 versions of 'O sole mio, what are yours? 


Janine Jansen - Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Album Review)


Janine Jansen - Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Album Review)

Janine Jansen is nothing short of a musical virtuoso. Yes, Vivaldi's music is stunning, but Jansen's interpretation is exquisite and while I have a few recordings of The Four Seasons, in my collection, none are quite as compelling as this stripped down version. While a complete orchestra may not have been employed to record this masterpiece, the chamber-sized ensemble beautifully enhances the piece and Jansen's incomparable performance. She certainly makes that near 300-year-old violin, a 1727 Stradivari Barrere, sing.

Of course, the recording, mix, and mastering are absolutely perfect; another instant Decca classic, no pun intended! The Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) release I’m fortunate to have is akin to an out-of-this-world experience for Jansen and the supporting musicians are present in the room with you as you sit back and relax. The transparency is beyond belief and while the Blu-ray Audio allows for Linear PCM (LPCM), DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD, all presented at 24bit/96kHz, I find that while my preference with these discs is generally DTS-HD Master Audio, the LPCM version is perfect as it provides a crisper representation of the recording. That isn’t to say the DTS-HD Master Audio edition is bad, just that this recording doesn't take advantage of, nor need, the lower end boost that DTS-HD Master Audio tracks generally add to a recording.

Perhaps the only interesting deviation of this reissue, from the original 2004 SACD release, is that the Blu-ray Audio edition is supplied in stereo only, whereas the SACD featured a multichannel mix. The question one must subsequently ask is if a surround sound mix is required to fully enjoy this recording? As I've never heard it, I can't adequately comment, but as I listen to the performance, there are movements where a surround mix may be more enveloping for the listener. That said, it ultimately depends on instrumental placement in the multichannel mix and when a stereo mix is this perfect, the soundstage opens up and ultimately becomes three dimensional, thereby captivating the listener. Subsequently, I have little to no interest in obtaining the multichannel mix, but I do wonder why Decca decided to omit it from this release. I could hypothesise various reasons, but it would just be unfounded conjecture.

What is not conjecture is just how good the iTunes/Apple Music edition is. With many of the Blu-ray Audio releases, Universal Music included an MP3 download code, much the same as they do for vinyl records. Perhaps, if record labels want CD sales to increase, they should include them via that format as well. Or, an even better option would be to, include a free month of TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, or Spotify et al. I don’t know about you, but the music labels need to make the physical product as compelling as they can, in order to ensure continued support. That said, classical music still remains dominant on physical media and likely will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Regardless, as Jansen's Four Seasons didn’t include a download card, and I was yet to utilise streaming services at the time of release in 2013, I purchased the album on iTunes as well so that I could have this exceptional recording with me, wherever I go. While there is no doubt that there is a difference between the lossy Mastered for iTunes release and the Blu-ray Audio, the performance shines through and one just can't be disappointed with the Mastered for iTunes release as it’s magical and makes Apple's AirPods come alive. It is amazing how far we’ve come and while there is a slight degradation in quality when compared to the Blu-ray Audio release, it’s minimal and only truly apparent when listening via loudspeakers as the soundstage is a little more shallow, lacking in depth, thereby resulting in me preferring the HFPA release when listening on my main stereo at home. That said, most people will adore the Mastered for iTunes edition and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is, after all, derived from the same high-resolution master as that used for the Blu-ray Audio. Truth-be-told, if I wasn't fortunate enough to own the HFPA edition, I would still be in awe of Jansen's Four Seasons as the iTunes/Apple Music equivalent is simply exceptional!

Normally at this stage of the review, I would take a look at the individual movements, but in this case, I would prefer to not colour your opinion with my own subjectivity for I consider the entire performance to be spectacular and while I doubt it’s possible, you may subjectively have a different viewpoint. Hence, listen for yourself. Allow the music to touch your soul. Close your eyes if that helps, but whatever you do, don’t listen to this album as background music, at least for the first play through. You’ll thank me later as this recording is most certainly an experience that will move you.

If you would like to own your own copy, Janine Jansen's Vivaldi: The Four Seasons is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). Unfortunately, the Blu-ray Audio release is becoming increasingly difficult to track down and prices are subsequently climbing to a cost out of the reach of most music lovers, myself included. However, if you can find a copy at a price you can afford, you'll be blown away by not only the quality of sound but by the redesigned booklet that has been reformatted for the, taller-than-CD, Blu-ray liner notes. I mention this merely because many of the HFPA releases were rushed to market and in some cases, the CD booklet was simply printed within the larger canvas of the Blu-ray booklet. A little disappointing for this collector. Nevertheless, Jansen's Vivaldi: The Four Seasons is absolutely flawless, on any format, and would make a lovely addition to any music collection.


Benny Andersson – Piano (Album Review)


Benny Andersson – Piano (Album Review)

The Piano is one of the world’s most beautiful instruments, provided it is played by a virtuoso. It is fair to say that Benny Andersson fits that description as his musical prowess is legendary, well beyond the limitations of Abba. This is also the first time that I think I have been so drawn to a solo piano performance. Sometimes they can be shrill and fail to portray that intended emotion of the composer and the musician. Where Andersson’s Piano differs, however, is that the songs played are composed either solely by Andersson or in conjunction with other exceptional composers. Subsequently, what you get here is a life’s work, reworked for the piano, and it is nothing short of spectacular. 

For the purposes of this review, I will be listening to both the TIDAL Masters (MQA) edition of Piano as well as the Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) release. Both are exceptional with the TIDAL Master’s edition bringing Andersson and his piano into the room in a more realistic, and less concealed, manner than the Apple Music counterpart. Ideally, as a fan of Andersson’s work, I’d like to have a copy on vinyl but, I feel compelled to write this review sooner, rather than later, as I can’t seem to stop playing the album. Yes, Piano is addictive and the vinyl release is on my wish list. Some may find, as I do, that this album is most captivating when sitting and listening intently, as the performance will bring you to tears. Others, however, may find that applying it as background music to a romantic dinner may be the ideal situation and while a dinner with the family, kids included, is far from ideal, I can attest to the relaxing nature of the album in the background as one shares their time, a good meal, and conversation with significant others. As good as that experience is, however, this is one album that really demands the attention of the listener for you will inevitably have a much more fulfilled experience should you take the time to appreciate the music in the manner in which Andersson intended you to. 

I Let The Music Speak is beautiful. While I love the original from Abba’s The Visitors, this rendition is incredible in that it is familiar yet completely unique. It amazes me just how diverse a single composition can be. 

You And I takes you on a magical ride whereby if you let it, the music will elevate your soul and take you to that very special place within your consciousness that only you know about. Music like this is the epitome of subjectivity and is incredibly relaxing. The playing and tuning of the piano on You And I simply blows my mind and is without a doubt one of the best songs on the album. 

Aldrig is a lovely song, but I feel it is tracked badly as it is musically different to You And I and doesn’t really fit in with Thank You For The Music. That said, having listened to the album numerous times, I’m unsure of where it would have been better placed. It reminds me of my love/hate relationship with soundtracks as depending on how they are presented, they can either be magnificent or an incongruent selection of songs.

Thank You For The Music is legendary, but this track in particular sounds as though it could have been played in any piano bar around the world. It isn’t the performance, but the initial composition. Plus, subjectively, I’ve never been a major fan of the Abba song as I find it is a little campy; a shame really considering that I adore The Album

Stockholm By Night is a beautiful song.

Chess is a modern-day masterpiece. Astonishing! How can music be this good? 

The Day Before You Came was an interesting choice from Abba’s catalogue and is perfectly suited to the solo nature of Andersson and his piano, but it likely wouldn’t have been a song I would have selected for this album. The performance is flawless, and the recording is captured immaculately, as it is on the entire album. The soundstage on this particular song is very special and has to be heard to be believed as the piano fills the room and captivates you from the very first note to the last.  

Someone Else’s Story is another beautiful selection from Chess. This album just keeps getting better and better.  

Midnattsdans is a lovely interpretation from BAO!, the second album from the Benny Anderssons Orkester

Målarskolan is brilliant with its slightly faster tempo when compared to the other songs on the album. 

I Wonder (Departure) is magnificent, both the original Abba recording and this interpretation. Although, I’d go as far as saying this rendition greatly improves on the masterpiece that was already present on The Album

Embassy Lament is, for lack of a better term, a B-Side. It’s enjoyable but isn’t to the same standard as the rest of the songs on Piano.

Anthem is lovely!

My Love, My Life is one of my all-time favourite Abba songs, from my all-time favourite Abba album Arrival. This rendition only enhances my feelings about this song. Absolutely spectacular!

Mountain Duet is quite an interesting composition. It sounds fully developed, yet it also feels incomplete. I know that makes no sense, but there are multiple ways one could appreciate this song and despite having heard it many times, I’m not really sure how, or if, I connect with Mountain Duet. 

Flickornas Rum is a great tune that I thoroughly enjoy. 

Efter Regnet has me closing my eyes as I picture Andersson playing a private performance for me, and only me. The recording is that transparent that you too will experience that feeling. 

Tröstevisa is an absolutely beautiful song.

En Skrift I Snön is, as Tröstevisa is, a beautiful song.

Happy New Year was a lovely song when released by Abba on Super Trouper, but I much prefer this rendition to the original. 

I Gott Bevar is the perfect song to close the album on. It’s absolutely magical and encourages me to listen to the entire album again and stay within Andersson’s extensive body of work. 

Overall, Piano is one of the greatest pieces of music Andersson has ever released and deserves a place in everyone’s collection. 

Piano is available on VinylCD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Piano is available on TIDAL Masters (MQA) and Apple Music.

Update April 15, 2019

While I had considered picking up Piano on vinyl, I came across an incredible deal, for the CD, at one of my local music stores that I simply couldn’t pass up.

The CD release is presented in a foldout digipak, not unlike a vinyl gatefold, but instead of having incredibly tight slits at the spine end of the packaging for the booklet and CD to be slid into, it has pockets where the CD and the associated liner notes sit beautifully. 

The only concern I have is the dust factor. No, my house is not a dusty mess. Vinyl collectors know just how diligent we must be and even though the CD format is more robust in that regard, dust can still be transferred from the CD to the laser and cause additional reading errors, resulting in the need for more error correction, thereby reducing the purity of the sound. Dust also has the ability to clog the internals of a CD player thereby, gradually over time, reducing the life expectancy and performance. If care is taken, however, this shouldn’t be an issue and in many respects, I welcome this type of design as I truly dislike the scratching that a CD receives when sliding it into the tight slits of a cardboard digipak.

All that aside, the liner notes are beautifully presented with photographs from Andersson’s history as a young accordion playing boy, to a live performance with his pop band the Hep Stars, and of course Abba. That isn’t all, however, as there are photographs depicting his work with the London Symphony Orchestra as they were presenting Chess in 1984 and the Benny Anderssons Orkester (BAO!) amongst many others. While brief, this visual walkthrough of some of the most pivotal moments in Andersson’s life is a beautiful collection for any fan to have. In many respects, Andersson said it best in his liner notes submission when he inferred that Piano represents a memoir of his life. 

Piano is certainly a memoir, but it is much more than that and as I suggested in my original review, Piano really is one of Andersson’s greatest releases and I’ll now go one step further and proclaim it as his greatest release of all-time. Nothing comes close!

The CD itself is simple and elegant, from a design standpoint, and the sonic quality is beyond reproach. Yes, I was impressed with the MQA stream, in my initial review, but the CD is equal to the task and sounds a little less treble focused when compared to the MQA counterpart. That may deter some listeners, but there really is no wrong way to appreciate Piano. Ultimately, it comes down to your own subjective tastes and stereo setup as to deciding which is the best version for you. For me, it is the 16/44.1kHz CD release.

The CD release of Piano that I’m fortunate enough to own is the Australian Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music release (Cat: 479 8143).


André Rieu Presents Mirusia – Always & Forever (Album Review)


André Rieu Presents Mirusia – Always & Forever (Album Review)

The soprano vocal is spectacular and while many can deliver it well, Mirusia Louwerse has mastered the art of presenting it with an equal mix of delicacy and power. I haven’t heard such an exceptionally talented soprano since Marina Prior. However, if there is a criticism to be made regarding Mirusia's style, it’s that she has a little sibilance in her vocal which is quite apparent during some songs. It is, of course, more prominent when listening on headphones, but still noticeable on speakers. That said, if you don’t focus on it, you’re unlikely to hear it.

My first exposure to Mirusia’s talent was via maestro André Rieu. Together they have produced an absolute masterpiece that will be enjoyed by generations of music lovers to come.

Whether you’re a classical music lover or not, you’ll likely be familiar with many of the tunes on Always & Forever. They could arguably be considered standards but are interpreted so well that Mirusia and Rieu have made them their own while staying loyal to the original compositions. The result is an astonishingly good series of performances and a recording that you'd be hard-pressed to fault.

Ave Maria (Live In Maastricht) is stunning and offers a perfect start this album. Mirusia's vocal control is exceptional and will resonate with your soul on this track. Without a doubt, this is one of the greatest interpretations of Ave Maria that I’ve ever heard.

Feed The Birds is a beautiful song, but Mirusia's sibilance is especially apparent throughout. It doesn't tarnish the song but it can be distracting.

Botany Bay is, by this stage, an Australian Classic. It’s performed beautifully and is a stunningly good interpretation.

Concerto Pour Une Voix is a song where Mirusia's vocal talent truly shines. Her soaring vocal becomes an instrument that communicates incredible emotion. Absolutely stunning!

Solveig's Lied is a beautiful song that I must admit I'm not familiar with. Nevertheless, Mirusia absolutely nails the performance.

Porgi Amor is beautifully relaxing.

Plaisir D'amour (feat. Carmen) is simply angelic.

Panis Angelicus (Live In Maastricht) is one of my all-time favourite classical pieces. Music doesn’t get much better than this and Mirusia does an incredible job interpreting the delicacy of the song. Spectacular!

Ich tanze mit dir in den Himmel hinein (2008 Version) is a lovely song, but that sibilance is back again. Thankfully, not as prominent as on Feed The Birds. That said, if there was a B-side to be found on Always & Forever, this would be it.

Memory (Live, Acer Arena, Sydney) is mind-blowingly good. I have always enjoyed this song and will always associate it with Elaine Paige as I feel her interpretation is still the one to beat. Although, Mirusia, at the very least, matches Paige's beloved recording of this classic song.

Con Te Partirò is another favourite, although I find it a little disappointing that Mirusia didn’t perform the song as a duet. Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman really set the bar high with their interpretation and while Mirusia performed it beautifully, I feel she could have taken it even further.

Send In The Clowns is a beautiful song and one that I most often associate with Barbara Streisand. Streisand’s live performance, on One Voice (Live), is second to none, but Mirusia interprets the song slightly differently, making it uniquely her own. Regardless, Mirusia's rendition is, however, thoroughly enjoyable.

There Is A Song In Me is lovely. Nothing to write home about, but lovely nonetheless.

Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again is an absolute classic and is performed beautifully. It’s a perfect way to close the album and ensures I’ll listen to Always & Forever again and seek out additional Mirusia recordings.

From start to finish, Always & Forever is pure perfection. Yes, there are a couple of minor quibbles, as mentioned throughout the review, but they in no way tarnish the album listening experience.

For this review, I have listened at length to the TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music streams and found both to be exceptionally good. Yes, the CD-quality, delivered by TIDAL, is slightly more spacious, delivering an experience that simulates a concert hall, but even the Apple Music stream, via Apple’s AirPods, sounds incredibly satisfying and only the most fastidious of audiophiles would be disappointed in the lossy edition of Always & Forever. Frankly, when music is recorded, mixed, and mastered this well, you're going to be blown away regardless of the delivery method.

Always & Forever is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Always & Forever is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.


Andrea Bocelli – Cinema (Deluxe Edition CD Review)


Andrea Bocelli – Cinema (Deluxe Edition CD Review)

Every now and then an album comes along that is the pinnacle of perfection. Cinema is just that as it blew my mind the first time I listened to it. While I am well aware of Bocelli’s work, having been a fan since his Romanza album in 1994, I wasn’t prepared for the quality of his latest work Cinema. There is little doubt regarding Bocelli’s exceptional talent, but I feel that recent albums, such as Passione, didn’t showcase his true potential. That said, I appreciate films and their associated scores, hence it could very well be my own subjectivity that passes judgement against this recent work. Regardless, the song selection and tracking on Cinema is perfect. The songs not only bring out the best in Bocelli, but many of these interpretations surpass their original compositions.


The Deluxe Edition CD is housed in a beautiful tri-fold digipak with full featured liner notes. The booklet is presented so well that I can honestly say it is one of the most detailed I have seen in recent years. It describes not only the inspiration and history of the songs, but all production elements are meticulously added. This level of detail is what audiophiles ask for but rarely get. It is wonderful to see this level of production, given the CD format has been faltering in sales recently.


There is a vinyl edition of Cinema, but I won’t be adding it to my collection. The CD offers one of the best masterings in my collection. If you want a CD that is reference quality, for auditioning new hardware, just use this one. This is how digital music should sound and proves that CD is a truly capable medium that has, more often than not, never been utilised to its full potential. Subsequently, I see no justification for higher resolution editions of this album, especially considering the audiophile 96kHz/24bit edition from HDtracks features exactly the same dynamic range as that available on the CD. While I have yet to see dynamic range numbers for the vinyl release, I think we could confidently assume that it would have been created from the same Hi-res master used for both HDtracks and the CD, therefore resulting in no improved dynamic range. The only benefit may be the analogue sound that some listeners may prefer. Although, as much as I love vinyl, I prefer listening to classical music in a high-quality digital format as the organic surface noise of vinyl can be distracting in low volume passages.


Maria (from “West Side Story”) is simply a gorgeous song that is perfectly suited for the tenor voice. While I’m not sure it is the best interpretation of the song, it is amongst the best and is thoroughly pleasing.

La Chanson De Lara (from “Doctor Zhivago”) is incredibly moving. It encourages the man with two left feet to dance with his significant other. It also reminds me of how exceptional the film Doctor Zhivago is. In fact, Doctor Zhivago is my second favourite film of all time, second only to Casablanca.

Moon River (from “Breakfast At Tiffany’s) is beautiful. When I think of this song, it is with Frank Sinatra in mind as I have always preferred his version. However, Bocelli has made this song his own while paying homage to the classical renditions by Sinatra and many others. It is sensational!

E Pit Ti Penso [duet with Ariana Grande] (from “Once Upon A Time In America”) is a song that I’m unfamiliar with, but I love it when Bocelli does duets as the intermingling vocals are always respectfully done and in cohesion. It is a beautiful song and worthy of inclusion on Cinema. I certainly look forward to hearing it many more times over the coming years.

Be My Love (from “The Toast Of New Orleans”) is another song I am unfamiliar with, yet it sounds somewhat familiar. Regardless, Bocelli delivers another stunning performance that works perfectly with his vocal register.

The Music Of The Night (from “Phantom Of The Opera”) is one of the most recognisable pieces of music in the world. Personally, I consider Michael Crawford’s interpretation to be the one to beat. No-one else has ever come close in my opinion. That said, I’m extremely impressed with Bocelli’s rendition and I have a feeling that even Michael Crawford would acknowledge this as nothing short of a stellar performance. If you haven’t already got your stereo turned up to ear-bleeding levels, you will definitely want to turn that volume knob to the right. Bocelli is absolutely amazing!

Brucia La Terra (from “The Godfather”) is one of my favourite film-based songs. I’ve been a fan of The Godfather series for decades and while the original song is superb, it is nothing like this. Bocelli has left me speechless and all I can say is: Wow!

Por Una Cabeza (from “Scent Of A Woman”) picks up the pace a little from the solemn notes of Brucia La Terra, but it doesn’t feel out of place. Personally, I feel it was a wise tracking choice as there is a similar vocal tonality throughout this song, despite the obvious shift in tempo.

No Llores Por Mi Argentina [duet with Nicole Scherzinger] (from “Evita”) reminds me vividly of the exceptional Elaine Paige version. However, I feel Bocelli and Scherzinger have done an exceptional job with this song. I can’t help but wonder if they also recorded the English version. That said, the utilisation of foreign tongue in music doesn’t concern me, especially when the performing artists are so incredibly talented and blessed with voices that instrumentalise emotion more succinctly than any instrument is capable of.

L’Amore E Una Cosa Meravigliosa (from “Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing”) is a beautiful song that I am not familiar with. That said, I truly appreciate a compilation-styled album such as this because it expands one’s musical appreciation into a series of songs that one may otherwise have never heard. It still amazes me how much beautiful music exists in the world and I can only imagine how much I have yet to experience.

Mi Mancherai (from “Il Postino: The Postman”) takes you on a musical journey that is simply exquisite.

Cheek To Cheek [duet with Veronica Berti] (from “Top Hat”) is an incredible song and while it has been played and interpreted numerous times, it never gets old. My personal favourite rendition, however, is the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recording from their 1956 album Ella And Louis. As good as the Bocelli/Berti version is, no one does it better than Fitzgerald and Armstrong in my opinion. That said, I would love to see Bocelli do more jazz-inspired songs as his vocal capabilities are perfectly suited to that style of music.

Sorridi Amore Vai (from “Life Is Beautiful”) is a beautiful song. As I listen, I remain amazed at the restraint that Bocelli has on his vocal performance. Many artists tend to reach too high and it sounds forced. As far as I can recall, I have never heard Bocelli extend his vocal beyond the requirements of a song. It is this professionalism that makes him one of the best vocalists in the world.

Historian De Amor (from “Love Story”) is a song I absolutely adore and I don’t recall ever hearing a bad rendition of it. Bocelli's interpretation carries on that trend and is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

Ol’ Man River (from “Show Boat”) is a song that I’m not overly familiar with and is probably the one song that I feel doesn’t fit well on the album. Bocelli’s vocals just don’t seem well suited to this song. That isn’t to say it is bad, but it doesn’t reach me on an emotional level.

Nelle Tue Mani [Now We Are Free] (from “Gladiator”) is one of the most stunning songs on the album and in any film that I can recall. It is moving and emotionally engaging. While I felt the film was lacklustre, this song is completely opposite as it empowers the listener and creates a sonic visualisation that is incredibly vivid. Bocelli’s performance is simply flawless. We, as music lovers, are truly blessed to have such sonic perfection in our lives. It literally brings me to tears.

Mere words can not explain just how moving this album is and how perfect the performance and production is from start to finish. While Bocelli is most certainly the star attraction and performs flawlessly, this album has an A-list of who’s who in the musical and studio production world. While this review would never end if I mentioned them all, all I can say is a sincere thank you to everyone involved in the making of Cinema.

Music simply doesn’t get any better than this and while Cinema is available on Vinyl, the Deluxe Edition CD is all you will ever need to truly enjoy this masterpiece. Plus, if you play albums as I do, you will wear out the vinyl edition from the inability to put the record back on the shelf. It really is that good!

For those of you who are interested in streaming, the Deluxe Edition is unavailable. However, both the Standard 13-track and 19-track Special Edition of Cinema are currently available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev (HFPA Blu-ray Review)


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev (HFPA Blu-ray Review)

There is something quite special and iconic about that blue and red Decca logo. For me, it symbolises quality and the assurance that a recording is going to be of the highest standard and a valued addition to my collection. I’ve yet to have a Decca album that has disappointed, though I acknowledge my collection is modest at best.

The Three Tenors – In Concert (Rome 1990) was the first Decca recording that I owned. It is a monumental concert, not only for classical music lovers but for music lovers in general. It was a pivotal moment where I believe classical music interspersed with mainstream acceptance, thereby later resulting in the ability for artists, such as Andrea Bocelli, to breach the bounds of classical music and become modern-day pop icons. Arguably, Pavarotti achieved this acceptance prior to this landmark concert, but the concert signalled what was possible to the following generation.

While classical music astounds me, regarding the way it captivates my mind and soul, I don’t class myself as a classical connoisseur. I know very little about the history, interpretational styles, and musical talents of the orchestra and conductor. To be honest, I’d like to keep it that way as I feel knowing too much about the process can become detrimental to simply enjoying the art form. This is one reason why I no longer watch the making-of documentaries for films as the magic of the fantasy world is eroded.

I like to be taken on a journey. I like to leave the vessel of my body and allow my mind to travel beyond mere conscious thought. That is how I feel about classical music. It paints a picture, a story, with music. The story is my own, for only me to interpret. It is the purest form of subjectivity and as the vision in my mind lifts my soul to that special place, the troubles of the world cease to exist. It is as cathartic as meditation and better yet, my thoughts are welcome when I listen to classical music; whereas a squirrel is ever-present in the silent world of my mind when meditating.


In this particular genre of music, I cease to care about what the composer could have been thinking as he wrote the piece. That is irrelevant to me as I search for my own subjective interpretation. Similarly, while I acknowledge that the conductor and orchestra will interpret their own meaning, their interests don’t factor into my evaluation of the performance either. I either like the interpretation, or I don’t. Interpretations that fail to reach my soul are simply not worthy of being included in my collection. No doubt, they will appeal to someone, but I can only reiterate the importance of enjoying classical music subjectively; the way all music, of all genres, should really be appreciated.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that very few people know of my love for classical music. How could they when they see me wearing AC/DC t-shirts almost daily? To them, I’m a hard rock fan, but behind closed doors I can listen to Thunderstruck and follow it up immediately with I Adagio – Allegro non troppo. Yes, I’m a special kind of crazy, but good music is good music. I don’t discriminate and I implore you to try it. While I am listening to this HFPA release as I write this review, I was previously listening to Carl Cox’s All Roads Lead To The Dancefloor. Switching between these albums, and musical genres, felt perfectly natural to me. Similarly, my classical music collection is interspersed with all other genres. I don’t have to be in the mood for classical music, I just have to want to listen to this particular album and seek it out in the T section of my collection. As I have more than one Tchaikovsky album, the recordings are then catalogued in order of conductor. That is about as complex as I get when it comes to adding my classical collection to my library of music.


As an early adopter of the High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray format, I found myself exploring more music than I had previously before. While I have always appreciated classical music, I didn’t acknowledge the diversity until this new lossless format appeared on my radar. Yes, HFPA Blu-ray is largely a failed technology, but the discs thankfully remain compatible with all Blu-ray players. However, it was this technology that created a rebirth of musical exploration for me and would ultimately become the instigator behind my acceptance of TIDAL Hi-Fi.

As a result, I can listen to just about every interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, but I like this one and tend to also turn to it when I only have access to TIDAL Hi-Fi. Normally, these HFPA releases would include an MP3 download code, but all Decca releases omitted that option. It was initially disappointing, but I’m glad they did that in retrospect as it forced me to search for other options for portable listening. I even purchased a few of the albums on iTunes, before I had TIDAL Hi-Fi, as I enjoyed them that much. This wasn’t one of them, but Janine Jansen’s glorious Vivaldi: The Four Seasons was. The Mastered for iTunes edition is very enjoyable and while it is unfair to compare it to the associated HFPA release, I would happily listen to the iTunes edition in a portable setting, especially with the Oppo HA-2 attached to my iPhone.

One aspect that I also find intriguing about classic music is how familiar it is. I may not have an adept knowledge of specific compositions, orchestras, or conductors, but without a doubt, I can recognise the music when I hear it. I dare say Hooked On Classics and various film scores have had a significant influence in this regard.

While my collection of Tchaikovsky is limited, I also have the HFPA release: Tchaikovsky: Ballet Suites – Wiener Philharmoniker/Herbert Von Karajan. My one-word review for that album is: exceptional!

While I am still wet behind the ears with regards to my knowledge of classical music, Tchaikovsky, Valery Gergiev, and the Wiener Philharmoniker, I hope that my thoughts on this recording will resonate with you.


I Adagio – Allegro non troppo is initially a subtly beautiful track. The DTS-HD Master Audio 24-bit/96kHz playback option, a trademark of the HFPA Blu-ray platform, creates that desired silent vibration that allows one to feel the music, rather than simply hear it. While the album is only presented as a 2.0 stereo track, I don’t feel as though I’m missing out by not having a 5.1 mix. That said, a 5.1 mix would have been desirable as the music whisks you away and the more encapsulated you can be by the sound, the better.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no classical connoisseur, but I feel every nuance is perfectly presented. Every high, every low, and every mid tone note is relayed in what can only be described as a masterful performance.

Of particular note is how well defined the string elements are within the mix. There are some classical recordings that pierce my ears, rather than my soul, and this is certainly not one of them. As I sit here enjoying I Adagio – Allegro non troppo, I am one with the orchestra as my system doesn’t skip a beat, running at only 50% of full capacity. Any louder and I would need to set up lawn chairs and sell tickets to the neighbours.

What is relevant, however, is how well the 24-bit/96kHz transfer is at resolving high volume levels. I find, on the same system, that CD playback at this volume is unbearable, regardless of mastering. While CD/SACD is arguably the best format for classical recording, especially in comparison to formats such as tape or vinyl, the HFPA Blu-ray is the closest thing I have heard that could be classed as a true concert-like presentation.

II Allegro con grazia is a swooshing passage that makes me want to jump up and dance gallantly around the room. When this happens, I know that the music has truly impacted my soul.

This section of the 6th Symphony will be arguably the most recognised element of the performance as it has been included in numerous film scores over the years. It is a timeless piece and a pleasure to listen to.

III Alllegro molto vivace is also well presented, but I do consider it to be the most complicated section of the 6th Symphony, from a listener’s standpoint. The constant changes in musical direction prevent me from settling into a rhythm. However, towards the end, the percussion sections are extraordinary in both their depth and clarity. It is not only an incredible recording, but it is a sonic masterpiece.

IV Finale. Adagio Iamestoso – Andante settles down in a relaxed manner as it is time to reflect on the enormity of the performance thus far. It is the perfect ending to a performance that was Tchaikovsky’s final and ultimately is said to symbolise death and a possible foretelling of his own demise. Personally, I wouldn’t class the 6th Symphony as being devoid of life, if anything I feel as it is a celebration with the finale closing a chapter of life with its sombre tones.


Overall, I feel blessed to have such a flawless recording on the HFPA format. While the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition of the album is presented beautifully, it just doesn’t feel quite as open and detailed as the HFPA presentation. The HFPA edition is presented in LPCM, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD formats. As usual, I prefer the DTS-HD Master Audio track and can confirm that it will shake the foundations while remaining crystal clear and free of distortion.

To their credit, Decca Classics have reissued the 2004 recording beautifully. While I don’t have the CD to compare, the HFPA cover and booklet are reformatted to fit the Blu-ray case. I mention this as a positive point merely because a number of the run-of-the-mill Universal releases have cut corners in this regard as they merely reprint the CD booklet, on the larger canvas. The booklet, while brief, does contain a short history of Tchaikovsky, particularly regarding Symphony No. 6, for novices such as myself. While a much more detailed overview would have been appreciated, it is the music that I am truly interested in and there are countless books detailing Tchaikovsky that one can explore if one wishes to be better informed.

While not all classical music is as accessible as Tchaikovsky, this recording is perfect for someone who is interested in classical music but has yet to form an appreciation for it as a form of art. While my children love Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Suites, they are starting to thoroughly enjoy the 6th symphony alongside Lady Gaga and AC/DC.

The Wiener/Gergiev recording of Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony is truly worth owning and is one of my most prized possessions.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi while still being available on HFPA Blu-ray.


Amy Dickson – A Summer Place (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)


Amy Dickson – A Summer Place (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

I recently had the privilege of coming across this album by accident as a couple of songs were suggested tracks on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Interestingly, the album I was listening to now escapes my memory, but Amy Dickson’s A Summer Place remained in my mind to such an extent that when I was browsing my library of albums, that I have yet to purchase on any physical format, I felt compelled to listen to this exceptional album once again and publish my thoughts.

Australia truly has some of the greatest musicians in the world. While I admit to be biased, there is often a unique styling, that is completely Australian, that you don’t see portrayed in other regions of the world. However, I had to do my research to find out that Amy Dickson is Australian, but now living and working abroad. That said, I honestly thought I was listening to one of the greatest American or European saxophonists; perhaps this isn’t far from the truth as her command of the saxophone is incredible. Dickson’s ability to take the saxophone and tell a story, by talking to the listener directly, is simply amazing. Yes, I have some interesting thoughts as to how music is presented, but I strongly believe that a musician can talk through an instrument, in a universal language, that arguably is impossible to define fully within the limitations of the English language.

Of course, Dickson doesn’t perform alone and those who have contributed on this album perform above, and beyond, any expectations I would have had for this record. The mastering alone is exquisite and I don’t have a single complaint as the album sounds perfect on loudspeakers and headphones. Well, perhaps I have one complaint and that is that TIDAL has yet to implement MQA; although that has nothing to do with the 16/44.1 edition that is currently delivered by TIDAL Hi-Fi. I just want more. Although, that may not be possible as the only physical release of the album was the CD redbook standard that TIDAL Hi-Fi uses and HDTracks only has a 24/44.1 edition that would offer marginal improvements at best. Regardless, the soundstage is wide and perfectly situated with Dickson’s instrumental tones sitting front and centre. Honestly, this album is one that you could use to show off the performance of your stereo system.

The series of tracks presented are well known classics and I predict you will immediately fall in love with the song selection, as I have, although there is a mismatch in the tracking that we will discuss shortly.

A Summer Place is a simply gorgeous song to start this album off with. This edition is also the best rendition that I have ever heard of this song. The music just floats in the air and is so silky smooth that you forget you are listening to a recording. It is as if your memory is playing the song back, the way you have always imagined it to be played.

What’s It All About, Alfie? is iconic and as much as I enjoy this song with lyrics, this is one of those times where the control over the saxophone proves that it can talk, if you are willing to listen.

The Summer Of ’42 is so well known and is another perfect choice for this album. It is pure sonic bliss as you and the music become one.

Take Five is an incredible jazz song, but it really doesn’t suit this tracking position on the album as it is simply too upbeat when compared directly with The Summer Of ’42 and the following Moon River track. It simply makes the album experience feel a little disjointed and it would have been best either at the beginning of the album, or the end.

Moon River is a sonic masterpiece. Nothing else really needs to be said.  

The World We Knew has so much character. It is bold, moody, yet peaceful and harmonious. It is a gorgeous song and Dickson performs it flawlessly.

We Have All The Time In The World is a song that I was not previously familiar with, despite being a fan of John Barry’s compositions. It is a lovely song and I feel that it would have been perfectly suited to accompany Take Five, as it is also a little more upbeat.

Windmills Of Your Mind is another immediately recognisable song that will simply bring tears to your eyes. It is that good!

The Apartment Theme is a song that I have not heard previously and while it certainly suits the album, I’m not sure it is needed. That said, it is, as all the songs are, impeccably performed by not only Dickson, but the London Session Orchestra. Yes, the digital liner notes finally acknowledge the orchestra involved. I have often complained that so many classical-styled releases simply omit these details. It is good to see recognition in this instance.

Is there anyone that doesn’t like The Sound Of Silence? Even Disturbed recorded an incredible edition on their latest album. Needless to say, Dickson has ensured the saxophone metaphorically speaks not only the notes, but the lyrics, as originally depicted by Simon & Garfunkel. One can’t help but wonder what Disturbed, plus Dickson and the London Session Orchestra, would sound like in a live theatre situation with this song. It is the perfect song to end the album on and it always encourages me to play the album again.

A Summer Place is a must own for any classical music fan, or anyone interested in the saxophone. It is exceptional from start to finish, with the only uncomfortably element being Take Five. That said, it is Dickson’s own interpretation of the song and most likely it doesn’t appeal to me as much because of the tracking on the album and the fact that I know the original Brubeck edition so well.

A Summer Place is available for purchase on CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

It is also available for streaming on Apple Music