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Westenra’s odyssey a winner
Tuesday, March 21, 2006


WORCESTERPrecocious 18-year-old New Zealander Hayley Westenra’s remarkable musical odyssey brought her to Mechanics Hall for the first time last night, where she put on an absorbing, often haunting and always enjoyable display of her vocal talents.

Westenra could be said to have already conquered her native country, Great Britain, and a few other countries as well. But although she hasn’t yet cornered the United States market, she is clearly on her way.

And last night’s concert — presented by Music Worcester Inc. — showed a singer well on her way to impressive mastery of all the music she wants to convey with her voice. The odyssey will continue, one hopes, and it would be wonderful to find her in Mechanics Hall again in a couple of years to see where her musical journey has taken her.

The 18-number performance (which included one encore and four instrumentals by accompanying pianist Jeff Franzel and guitarist Askold Buk) covered a wide range of styles — classical, operatic, folk, Maori and pop. Westenra seemed at home with each, although she particularly registered with such Celtic gems as “Mists of Islay” and “She Moves Through the Fair.”

The majority of the selections were from her latest (and second) major international CD, which is titled, appropriately enough, “Odyssey.”

Westenra’s voice has a soprano pureness as well as a richness that sometimes belies her young years. It’s a voice all her own, with great control and tremendous command of the upper register, but you could be forgiven for thinking about such singers as Enya and Judy Collins and wonder when or whether it will be safe to make comparisons.

Westenra invited that judgment to some extent by singing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” which was also famously covered by Collins. Westenra did all the right things, singing the moody piece note perfect and with plenty of feeling. But one suspects both Mitchell and Collins had seen a little more of both sides when they recorded the song than the occasionally vulnerable looking 18-year-old. But could either of them — or anybody else, for that matter — offer “Ave Maria” in the haunting and perfect pitched manner Westenra sang the piece last night?

Looking beautiful in a blue dress, Westenra was a bright and cheery host, talking to the audience between songs. Her opening song was a Maori love song from New Zealand, “Pokarekare Ana” that almost had a poignant Celtic quality to it. Some of the more plainly commercial pop songs were rather unremarkable as compositions, but Westenra musically extracted the very best that could have been hoped for.

Hers is a voice that can move in an up tempo groove as well as atmospherically lament. A marvelous example of the former was a wonderfully rolling traditional number called “The Mummer’s Dance.” Another Maori haunting song closed the official part of the concert and a close-to-full-house of 1,200 people gave Westenra a standing ovation.
Source : EWORCESTER Credits : Allen (aka Alien)
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