A celebration of youth in a cornucopia of well-chosen popular songs here. There is a touch of Christmas about the program, as a quick scan of the title will reveal. There are two clear talents here, the 13 year old boy treble Will James and the 14year old soprano Kate James. Both sang in the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in Hänsel und Gretel; Will James also sang Third Boy in Die Zauberflöte at Covent Garden, and as it happens I attended a performance of that run (David McVicar’s staging, conducted by Leo Hussain; the date was 11/8/2019).
The purity of the James’ tuning can be heard at the solo-voice opening to Were you there?; in fact, it is in just those most fragile moments that the singers shine. The whole of You Raise Me Up confirms this (although I still cannot approve of that awful modulation in the music, that popular music hike up that prevails in that field and each and every time feels false). The program is carefully chosen, and it is lovely to hear some Morten Lauridsen (Sure On This Shining Night) as well as to welcome cellist Sarah Butcher, a member of the London Mozart Players, on (Somewhere) Over The Rainbow. There are delights galore, and the true achievement is that there is variety and excellence enough to avoid any sense of prevailing sameness. There is much that will be familiar here, and the eprformers’ warmth reminds us why these pieces have an enduring popularity. Malcolm Archer is a superb piano accompanist throughout.
The recording is intimate, as befits a disc such as this. If I had to sum up the disc, the mot juste surely is “cozy,” a word that holds greater compliments than first glance might suggest. To be cozy, one has to be comfortable; and to be comfortable one has to have confidence in the performers. The prime factor in this is the James’ tuning: perfect throughout, and the vocal tone of both singers is ever most amenable. Many arrangements are by George Arthur, and he shows a light touch. Recommended.