Over the Rainbow is a wide-ranging and enjoyable collection of songs for solo soprano/treble and soprano/treble duet, performed with musicality by siblings Will and Kate James and beautifully accompanied by pianist Malcolm Archer. Featuring sacred music alongside secular repertoire, and showcasing the talents of two young choristers (both finalists of BBC2 Young Chorister of the Year in 2019), this disc should be of interest to readers. The imaginative programme features such classics of the song repertoire as Dowland’s ‘Flow my tears’ and Gurney’s ‘Sleep’ alongside sacred works by Britten (the atmospheric ‘Corpus Christi Carol’), Chilcott, Rutter and Brunning, and popular numbers including ‘Angels’ (Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers) and the title track ‘Over the Rainbow’ (Harold Arlen and E.Y Harburg). Many of the arrangements included are by George Arthur, who provides textural and harmonic interest and richly expressive piano accompaniments without the original material being obscured. A highlight of his contributions is the mesmeric ‘Lord of all hopefulness’; readers looking for sacred repertoire for upper voices will no doubt be interested in this setting and the stunning ‘Were you there?’, amongst others. In a different vein, ‘Over the Rainbow’ (dedicated to the keyworkers of the Covid-19 pandemic) features an obbligato ’cello line, beautifully played by Sarah Butcher.
The stars of this disc are of course Will and Kate James, who communicate their love for the repertoire featured here; the musicianship is of a high quality and it is easy to forget that they are only 13 and 14 years old respectively. Will James offers a mature and elegantly phrased account of Dowland’s ‘Flow my tears’, his plaintive treble perfectly capturing the emotion of this setting. Equally powerful is Gurney’s ‘Sleep’. Kate James demonstrates control and delicate tone in ‘The Turtle Dove’ (Vaughan Williams) and gives a warmly communicative performance of ‘When she loved me’ (Randy Newman). Both singers have a good range and a secure light higher register, and their voices blend well in the duets. Intonation is excellent across the disc and both singers negotiate technical challenges very well, including the often angular lines of Lauridsen’s poignant ‘Sure on this Shining Night’. Words are clearly sung throughout the disc, which is often to good effect; sometimes consonants are overly articulated or elongated for my taste, where subtlety would have captured reflective moments more effectively (for example the many rolled ‘r’s in ‘Pie Jesu’). ‘Angels’ remains true to the James’s chorister training in vocal style but with some welcome pop inflexions. Malcolm Archer’s accompanying is outstanding throughout the disc, always sensitive and well-attuned to the different musical styles represented. The recorded sound is of a high quality and the booklet is nicely produced and informative (though programme notes are uncredited). I highly recommend this disc for its lovely selection of repertoire, and especially for the performances of these two talented young choristers.