BWW Album Review: Sarah Brightman's HYMN To Faith And Music
The intersection of Broadway/opera and sacred music seems like a natural fit. Both are often larger than life, both speak to a very specific message, and both use a wide range of instrumentation and vocals. On Sarah Brightman's new album, Hymn, she combines the two genres to mixed effect. While the more traditional sounds are lovely and suit her voice well, the contemporary songs tend to be overwrought.
The album's opening song and title track sets the stage pretty well: a contemporary Christian sound with a simple Melody But a huge, overblown backing. Lyrically, it's pretty standard, uninspired lyrics, such as the repeated couplet "Jesus came down from heaven to earth/and people said it was a virgin birth." It's not that the song isn't pleasant to listen it, it's that it feels like it's trying to be too big and would be much more effective if it were aurally smaller.
Brightman is at her best, unsurprisingly, when she leans into the more classical side of her voice: that lovely soprano that's been her claim to fame for years. "Sogni," the first appearance of this style on the album, also uses the vocal talents of Vincent Niclo, whose voice blends nicely with Brightman's. "Canto Per Noi" is similarly elegant and appealing, if a little on the slow side. Brightman's voice is still thrilling and is suited well to this style of music, which makes the more operatic songs the highlights of the album.
"Gia Nel Sono" is the most musically interesting part of the album. A haunting, quasi-operatic story song, the lyrics are in Italian but Brightman's voice is so expressive that you don't need to understand the words. It's as epically styled as the rest of the album, but this time, it actually suits the music well.
The album really struggles when it tries to incorporate contemporary-Christian music. In general, it feels like songs such as "Sky and Sand" and "Follow Me" are trying much too hard to be inspirational. No embellishment is left unturned: big instrumentation, a huge choral backing, synth sounds, and so on. When it's there at every turn, it loses its effect. Instead of feeling inspirational and close to God, it feels forced. "You" seems like it's going to be a change of pace, starting out with a more acoustic, gentle vibe, but by halfway through, we're right back where we started. This isn't just a "feeling" problem, but a sound one, too: there are several tracks where Brightman's voice is overwhelmed by the sheer scale of production around her.
Sacred music has a rich history. It can feel as small and intimate as a personal prayer, or as expansive as a cathedral. Regardless of the scale, however, it always is genuine, an expression of faith - which is an incredibly personal thing. Hymn, despite its best efforts, often feels more like a modern megachurch: enormous in scale and sound, but losing that personal grace along the way.