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Joseph McManners - In Dreams
Mike BATT (b.1950) Bright Eyes (from Watership Down) (1999) [4:04]
John RUTTER (b.1945) Pie Jesu (from Requiem) (1985) [3:29]
Howard SHORE (b.1946) In Dreams (from The Lord of the Rings) (2001) [3:13]
Howard GOODALL (b.1958) Psalm 23 from the Vicar of Dibley (1994) [2:59]
Howard BLAKE (b.1938) Walking in the Air (from The Snowman) (1982) [3:44]
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890) Panis Angelicus (1872) [3:57]
Elton JOHN (b.1947) Circle of Life (from The Lion King) (1994) [4:00]      
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) (arr. Ingman/Patrick) (1868c) [1:56]
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) (arr. Matteo Saggesse) Music of the Angels (1798) [3:49]
John RUTTER Candlelight Carol (1985) [4:01]
Arr. Cat STEVENS (b.1948) Morning Has Broken [3:14]
Lionel BART (1930-1999) Where is Love? (1960) [2:57]
Rachel PORTMAN (b.1960) Song from The Little Prince (2003) [3:55]
Orchestra arranged and conducted by Nick Ingman (except Portman)
Joseph McManners (boy soprano), Jo Appleby (soprano), Mairead Carlin (soprano)
Metro Singers, London Oratory School Schola
BBC Concert Orchestra/David Charles Abell (in Portman),
rec. Rudolfinum, Prague. DDD
SONY/BMG 82876726092 [45:56]


Joseph McManners is a twelve year old from Canterbury who first started to sing in public about four years ago and quickly appeared in the title role in a local production of Oliver with Ron Moody. From there he became known on both sides of the Atlantic when he won the BBC competition to appear, again as the title character, in the premiere of Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince. Having appeared in a musical and an opera before the age of twelve has set his course between these two media, although he seems to enjoy the classics a little more than the musicals. Whatever his preferences his voice fits in with the type of innocent but theatrical boy soprano that people not used to a Cathedral sound prefer. In addition both Joseph’s repertoire and his manner fit in with the current policy among the big recording companies for more or less classical singers who can be used as crossover artists. Unfortunately, this means not only a limitation in repertoire, but also a use of less than sterling versions of classical pieces, as we shall see.
 
Joseph’s debut album strictly follows the dichotomy between classical pieces and excerpts from musicals (mostly movie versions of musicals). Out of a total of twelve selections, five are from the classics, though hardly in the original versions and seven from musicals. There is also a bonus track from the Little Prince.
 
The well-known song from Watership Down starts this disc and exemplifies the largest complaint that I had with Joseph McManners’ singing: a tendency to deliver the music in an almost oracular style. This takes away both from the beauty of his voice and his excellent diction. It also invests certain of the pieces on this disc, such as the 23rd Psalm from The Vicar of Dibley with more weight than the music can support. On this particular track he is also over-miked and insufficiently supported by the strings. The accompaniment is much better in the first Rutter track, but again that oracular element takes away from what we know is a fine piece of music. In the title track Joseph seems more comfortable with the Celtic element and more enthusiastic. This feeling continues in the fifth track, from The Snowman, which is delivered with all the right feeling and styling, making it the high point of the disc. Joseph’s performance of Franck’s Panis Angelicus is relatively straightforward, not too serious, but not too sentimental. On the well-known excerpt from The Lion King Joseph does not appear until the first chorus, the first being ably performed by soprano Jo Appleby (another crossover gesture). This is an effective rendition for those who enjoy this piece of music. The Brahms Lullaby is well-sung, but the treacly arrangement and text detract much from the performance.
 
Treacly is also a good term for the arrangement of the slow movement of the Pathétique Sonata. This was definitely the low point of the album and Joseph’s singling could not make up for its demerits. Joseph gives a straightforward reading of the modern-classic Candlelight Carol of John Rutter and this is quite refreshing after the two previous tracks. Joseph applies equal sincerity to the Cat Stevens arrangement and this struck me as the most moving version of this song that I had heard. The Lionel Bart track is passable. This brings us to the “bonus” track of the The Little Prince Song, which seems to have been added as an afterthought to an already-planned Joseph McManners album perhaps to profit from the success of the Rachel Portman opera. It is easy to see why Joseph was chosen to star in this opera. The role of the Little Prince is one that musically combines his slightly distant innocence and unadorned delivery. It remains to be seen what he would do with a more dramatic role.
 
One hopes that Joseph McManners will go on to bigger things in the musical world. Until then I heartily recommend the DVD or CD of The Little Prince - a wonderful experience.

William Kreindler


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