Charlotte Church,
Voice of an Angel
(Sony Classical, 1998)

When I first heard of young Welsh soprano Charlotte Church -- which was months after the rest of the entire planet, as usual -- I couldn't help feeling that touch of leery apprehension I always feel when I hear about a bright new talent and the emphasis is on her or his age. Still, I was interested and intrigued enough to pick up her debut album, Voice of an Angel, recorded when she was 12, and give it a listen.

The CD is a collection of religious pieces such as "Psalm 23," "Our Father" and "Ave Maria," as well as her "signature" song, the "Piu Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem, plus "Amazing Grace," "Danny Boy," "When at Night I Go to Sleep" from Hansel & Gretel and other songs in the folk tradition. The selection seems conservative, although some have claimed that the pieces should be beyond Church's range in terms of her ability to sustain the sound without doing physical damage to herself.

The first thing you notice is that, yes, she has a lovely voice and no, she doesn't sound like a grown woman, and that's a good thing. It means that there is room for growth and depth in her music, should she continue to study it seriously, as she gains the physical, emotional and experiential maturity to express herself fully. She also doesn't sound like a boy soprano; the quality of her voice is rich and warm rather than pure and clear. Actually, what she does sound like is a remarkably talented teen-aged girl who loves to sing and who got the opportunity and the breaks to do so, and I think that may be the main point. This is not a slick, glossy production based on a one-note gimmick; it is undeniable that Church has talent with enormous potential.

For me, one of the highlights of the CD is "Amazing Grace," not for its technical qualities, but rather for its sincere emotional resonance and its lack of artifice. "Piu Jesu" also has spine-shivering moments, as does ""My Lagan Love" and "A Lullaby." Church is backed on some of the tracks by the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, the Chorus of Welsh National Opera, and Celtic harpist Meinir Huelyn, and the arrangements are all well done and never intrusive.

Human nature being what it is, the temptation is either to blindly idolize or cynically dismiss Church's talent; I think the former does her a disservice, but the latter is downright nasty. For myself, I hope Church and those involved with her career, be they family, trainers, or promoters make good choices for her and allow her talent to unfold and blossom at its own pace.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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