Classical CD: Kiri Te Kanawa: Waiata

By William Dart

CD cover: Waiata by Kiri Te Kanawa.
CD cover: Waiata by Kiri Te Kanawa.

Classical CD: KIRI TE KANAWA: Waiata (Sony)
Stars: 3/5
Verdict: New Zealand soprano comes up with a staid celebration of 50 years in the recording studio.

Te Kanawa's creamy lyric soprano was not made to evoke the malevolent sea monsters of Te Taniwha. Max Cryer's liner notes for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's Waiata make an engaging read. He provides another succinct introduction to the thorny issue of "Maori song" (as he did for Te Kanawa's 1999 Maori Songs) followed by notes on individual tracks.

This is a celebration of the soprano's half-century recording career, enlisting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the University of Auckland Chamber Choir, in arrangements by Carl (Piano by Candlelight) Doy.

In time for Christmas, Waiata is an unabashed stocking-stuffer, offering minimal rewards for those with a respect for the achievements of this singer.

Beside it, her earlier Maori Songs CD, which occasioned a few giggles and squirms in its time, takes on classic status.

It had stronger songs and Te Kanawa's voice was 14 years younger.

Its ethnic trimmings of kapa haka groups (including Mahinarangi Tocker and George Henare) and a wash of taonga puoro now seem positively piquant.

Waiata is a staid affair. Doy's arrangements have fleeting moments of inspiration, with a few impressive Mantovani string clusters, but tinkling piano and churning rhythmic ostinati try the patience, along with overlooked production glitches.

There are unmitigated disasters. The fragile country waltz of Ruru Karaitiana's Blue Smoke wilts in Te Kanawa's patrician upper register. Check out Pixie Williams' original Tanza recording to have your faith restored.

The contorted and distinctly wobbly rhetoric introducing Kamate is another low point.

Te Kanawa's creamy lyric soprano was not made to evoke the malevolent sea monsters of Te Taniwha - one wonders here what the great Ana Hato might have made of this challenge.

One track has afforded me considerable delight. He puti puti koe is a simple pop song, appropriated by Sir Apirana Ngata from the Tin Pan Alley ballad, You're just a flower from an old bouquet.

It is certainly the flower of this collection. Doy's arrangement is a little bit Brill Building with ukelele on the side; Te Kanawa relaxes, thinking perhaps of the good old days at Kiwi Pacific Records, even if its well-mannered choral refrain does make one pine for a touch of the Shirelles or the Yandall Sisters.

- NZ Herald

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