Hayley Westenra
My Gift To You


The second CD to go on general release in New Zealand was ‘My Gift To You’ and what a wonderful gift it must have made. It was recorded in 2001 when Hayley was still only fourteen.

1. All I Have To Give
The orchestral introduction begins its slow and melancholy theme but within a few seconds, starts to build into something gentle and serene above which Hayley’s voice rings out in its usual joyous fashion. As always, every word is crystal clear and her voice sounds so confident for someone of any age, let alone just fourteen.

2. You’ll Never Walk Alone
This Rodgers and Hammerstein song is familiar to everyone but I don’t remember ever hearing it from a female vocalist before. The backing vocals throughout are perfectly balanced to allow Hayley to easily project above them.

3. Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire
This announces that it is Christmastime and conjures up a picture of days gone by when people really did roast chestnuts on an open fire. The song’s gentle mood is a perfect vehicle to display Hayley’s sensational voice. There is a pleasing instrumental break between verses which is, perhaps, reminiscent of Mantovani’s typically cascading strings. Hayley returns with the final verse to wish us all a Merry Christmas.

4. Mary Did You Know?
Still on a Christmas theme, Hayley admirably covers this charming song. The vocal style (and overall arrangement) is slightly bluesy with perfectly executed vocal slurs. The only backing comes from guitars and bass, which allow us to really focus on the quality of Hayley’s voice.

5. The Peace Song
As with several songs on this album, this track is very gentle and reminds one of sitting by the fireside on a cold Christmas night. It evokes a feeling of peace and serenity. Hayley’s amazing voice control during the long-sustained high note at the end is worthy of note.

6. Do You Hear What I Hear?
There is a real bonus for all Westenra fans here - the second vocalist who echoes relevant lines of the melody. The first time I heard it was before I had read the sleeve notes and I imagined it sounded as Hayley might have done two or three years earlier. That is not surprising as the guest vocalist is Hayley’s sister, Sophie – surely another star in the making. Delightful.

7. Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Remember the scene? “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto!” No we’re not. Hayley (rather than Dorothy) transports us to the Land of Oz in a way that, for me, Judy Garland could never do. Okay, so I am biased – just a bit! This version is lovely. The soaring melody, with its leap of one full octave, on the word ‘Somewhere’ is captivating. Softly plucked mandolins enhance the tranquil mood. With the melody gently slowing down throughout the final verse, it really makes you want to drift off to the Land of Dreams…. Or Oz…. (Or Christchurch!).

8. Gabriel’s Message
This less familiar traditional song features a piano more prominently than occurs in others. It suits the mood well with the strings and backing vocals in quiet support.

9. Pokarekare Ana
This has to be the song currently most associated with Hayley. There is something strangely comforting in the realisation that she has been singing it for years and that she still wished to include it on ‘Pure’. Here, the first verse is sung unaccompanied. Then, with only minimal instrumental backing, which slowly builds up to a more full sound that is absolutely gorgeous, it is evocative of a South Sea Island paradise. I particularly liked this song when I first heard it. The more I hear it, the more I love it. Thank you Hayley; this is a real gem.

10. Through These Eyes
This song was not familiar to me and I know nothing about it. The first verse sounds just a little ordinary except for Hayley’s voice, of course, but then we come to the chorus which is quite magical. The melody comes alive and sparkles. This song is greatly enhanced once again by the addition of Sophie singing in harmony in the choruses. I would give anything to see the two of them in concert together. Let’s hope they do someday.

11. Morning Has Broken
The instrumental arrangement is very similar to the Cat Stevens version that became so popular all those years ago. Hayley’s vocal rings out above it in a way that reminds us that this is actually a song of praise (albeit not strictly a hymn). Beautiful.

12. Silent Night
We end this delightful album by returning once more to its primary theme of Christmas. The first verse is sung completely unaccompanied. Instrumentation always fascinates and excites me but here I almost wish that she had sung the entire song unaccompanied, such is the pleasure of hearing her amazing voice.

Although this is undeniably a Christmas album, it is one that will be played all the year through. Overall, it is another spectacular success for a very young Hayley and I am sure that if it could only be released worldwide, together with the earlier self-titled CD (perhaps as a double album), and on the back of the success of ‘Pure’, it would sell by the million.

Roger Mansbridge

11 /12/03


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