An Evening of "Pure" Pleasure


A review [by Keith] of the Aled Jones Concert, North Wales Theatre, Llandudno on 7th October 2003 With Special Guest Star Hayley Westenra.

In the mid 1980’s, I was entranced by the fabulous voice of a boy who, on more than one occasion, was referred to as "The Treble". For those who are not aware of it, "treble" is the word used to describe a boy soprano. This boy was Aled Jones. Aled’s voice did not break until he was sixteen, and then it broke with a vengeance in the middle of a recording session. His career as "The Treble" was over. This hailed the start of years of waiting for his return. It was well worth the wait, for Aled has returned with a magnificent baritone voice.

Fortunately, unlike boys, girls do not experience that caprice. No, their voices just get better as they mature. None establish this fact more comprehensively than Hayley Westenra. Her voice is clear as crystal, with a bell-like purity which tells not of a good voice, but a truly great voice.

I have had the great honour of meeting both Hayley and her father, Gerald, twice now. On both occasions I found them warm and welcoming. On the second occasion I was greeted as a friend, which moved me deeply.

So, what has this to do with reviewing the concert performance? I feel it has much to do with it, because it gives an insight of the person who took part. It should be said that Aled is no less genuine and friendly. Both are great ambassadors of their art. Anyway, down to business.

Prior to the concert, and during the interval, the music being played featured the boys choir "Libera". A most excellent choir producing beautiful music. The concert opened with Aled giving a flawless rendition of "All Through the Night" in both Welsh and English. With an opening like this, could the standard be maintained throughout the evening? I will answer that question later. When Aled finished his first song, the appreciation showed by the capacity audience was not in doubt. They loved it.

Next to perform were a violin duo called "Duel". They are Craig Owen and Greg Scott, two young men who are masters of their art, and of whom we will surely hear much more in the years to come. They played six pieces:

"Petite Fleur"

"Chi Mai"

"Danse Macabre"

"Ashokan Farewell"

"Hungarian Dance No. 5"

"Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence"

Each of these pieces were played with passion and drama. So much so that it seemed they were finishing almost before they began.

Aled came back on and gave a truly beautiful performance of "Vespera". The audience was now caught up completely in the fantastic entertainment of the evening. They were certainly ready to receive Hayley. Aled introduced her, and she came on to a wonderful, unreserved round of applause. She approached the microphone and spoke. "Diolch yn Fawr" – Welsh for "thank you very much". That brought a cheer and yet more applause. Three little words and she was ready to take control of this audience, who were only too happy for her to do so.

Hayley began with "River of Dreams", a most beautiful and melodious song which instantly showed skilful interpretation of her music, her perfect voice in both pitch and tone, and her control. The audience loved it and showed it in no short measure. Next, she sang "Dark Waltz", a thoughtful, mysterious, haunting song which had the audience listening in wonder at the maturity of technique and performance from one so young. Hearts were melting in that auditorium and you could feel the growing warmth of the audience for Hayley.

The third song from Hayley was the traditional favourite, "Amazing Grace". Performed with reverence and feeling, and illustrating the easy precision which is such a rare talent. And those high notes at the end still send a shiver down my spine – I could see that I was not the only one so affected.

Then Hayley introduced her final solo song, "Hine e Hine". Some of those present had heard it at the Faenol Festival on 24th August and it was obvious that this simply heightened appreciation for this beautiful Maori lullaby. Hayley was, by this time, in total control. She had spoken to the audience quite a bit between her songs, and had impressed the audience with her genuine, open honesty and unassuming, charming character. This was the second time I had seen an audience listening so intently, hanging on her every word. Everyone in the house had thoroughly enjoyed Hayley’s solo performance and, as she left the stage (once again with that lovely little wave I had first seen at Faenol), the audience was intent on giving her a lengthy round of rapturous applause. The microphones were re-set, and it was time for Aled to join Hayley in a duet of "Pokarekare Ana".

Suddenly, what had so far been a fabulous evening took a huge leap forward. It is only my opinion but, I feel that this Maori love song is much better suited to a baritone voice than it is to a tenor; and Hayley’s incredible soprano is complemented better, too. When Hayley sings with others, and I know of Russell Watson, Aled Jones, Bryn Terfel and Jose Carreras, her brilliance sparkles even brighter. Singing together, Hayley and Aled gave a performance which was emotionally moving. Well, it was for me and, I must admit that throughout this song I was oblivious of the rest of the audience. It was only when it ended that I was brought back to reality by the fact that the approval being shown by the audience was far greater after this piece than any which had gone before. This was the end of the first half of the concert – which was just as well. I felt that the audience needed a chance to catch their breath. According to the programme, Hayley’s part in the concert was over.

The second half began with Aled singing "San Damiano". He then answered some questions from members of the audience, exhibiting an easy friendliness and brilliant communication with his public. Next on Was Helen Cole, a harpist of exceptional ability. She played two pieces which, due to the high I was now on, I found I could not remember the titles of. In fact, I would now be lost if I didn’t have the programme to prompt me.

Following this, Aled performed:

"Suo Gan" – a song I had first heard performed by James Rainbird as the opening theme in the film "Empire of the Sun".

"Marble Halls"

"David of the White Rock"

"Did You Not Hear My Lady?"

"Deep Peace"

All of these were thoroughly enjoyable but, to some extent, wasted on me. I was still wallowing in the wondrous performance Hayley had given. According to the programme, Aled was now to sing "Ave Maria". It was a delightful surprise when he announced that Hayley would be singing it with him. He introduced her for this song as "….my pal, Hayley".

I was so engrossed in the performance that I swear someone could have borrowed money off me without me really knowing.

The last song on the programme, "How Great Thou Art", was given as an encore. During this song, I thought only of Hayley and her singing. The evening ended with Aled, joined by the audience, singing the Welsh National Anthem.

Going back to the question I asked earlier, "could the standard be maintained throughout the evening?" The answer is that it was not just maintained, it was improved upon repeatedly throughout. But none impressed me more than Hayley. I find that the more I listen to her music, the better she seems to get. Then, to see her perform live just takes your appreciation a quantum leap higher.

At the end of the concert, the entire audience were on their feet giving a standing ovation to not just Aled, but to "Duel" and Helen Cole and, at least in my case, especially to Hayley.

Afterwards, to be greeted by Gerald with a big smile and warm handshake, and then Hayley calling "Hi, Keith" to me from their car, plus their thanks for being there to support her just keeps warming my heart to them both, but particularly to Hayley, all the more.

As I took my leave of them, they left the car park first, turning right as I was about to turn left. As they turned out onto the road, Hayley had turned in the back seat, and was sporting a gorgeous big smile as she waved to me. This is an image which will stay in my mind’s eye far into the future.

Once again, Hayley has given me the most fantastic night out. I can’t wait until I get the chance to see her perform live again.

Thank you Hayley.



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