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Classical Crossover

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.


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.