Top positive review
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on August 13, 2005
Ever since Charlotte Church turned into a tabloids' darling and a wannabe pop star, there's been a gap opened for a young, sweet-faced soprano. The best bet on filling it seems to be Hayley Westenra, a young singer/dancer from New Zealand.
The result: "Pure," an album that is reminiscent of early Sarah Brightman, back when she did folk songs and showtunes. Westenra sticks close to her classical sound with songs like the delicate "In Trutina" and the traditional New Zealand song "Pokarekare Ana," which is rendered with the backing of a a rather muddled male chorus and some swelling strings.
However, Westenra doesn't neglect more modern songs, and she does well in classical pop as well as straightforward classical. The big difference seems to be a bit of synth and a delicate guitar melody, in songs like the charming "Beat of Your Heart" and dreamy "Why Painted the Moon Black?" It's a smooth, thoroughly sweet crossover effect.
Westenra also eschews the usual round of classical-pop songs, like "Nella Fantasia." I love that song, but it's been done so many times. Instead, she opts for Maori lullabies, Vivaldi ballads, and the orchestral cathedral grandeur of "Benedictus." She even covers Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights," adding a modern feel to the finale.
That is not to say that every choice is an excellent one. "Wuthering Heights" has Westenra trying to sound more Bush-ian, while "Amazing Grace" is too simple vocally. Aside from those, her choices of song are excellent -- rich, uplifting and beautiful, and backed by a wide range of orchestral musicians, especially the strings.
Her vocals themselves are not operatic, but they are strong, clear and sweet, without pretensions or dramatic flourishes. The effect is stunning, more given to magic and sweetness than to keeping to classical standards. Since this was recorded when Westenra was only sixteen, one wonders how good she'll be in ten years.
Despite comparisons to Charlotte Church, Hayley Westenra is more like Sarah Brightman -- a sweet-voiced singer, straddling the fence between classical and pop. An enchanting experience.