Everyone in the entertainment community will want to wish Russell Watson and family all the very best this Christmas following his recent illness. This album was in preparation at the time the singer was taken ill, and includes a poignant tribute to one tenor who didn't live to see this year's festive preparations gathering pace.
But the inclusion of "Nessun dorma" in memoriam Pavarotti - whilst it might be a touching personal gesture - doesn't do Watson any favours, particularly with the big man's superlative account ringing in everybody's ears. In fact, the 'operatic' offerings on this disc (five tracks of thirteen) are generally poor. It's been said before, but Watson's classical voice suffers from inconsistency of tone, awkward phrasing and contorted vowel sounds. All three are on offer in "La Califfa" which opens the disc, where you can also experience pronunciation about as Italian as chips and cheese, and hear The Voice aiming for the big moments and frequently miscuing them. This is uncomfortable stuff, and you don't need to know much about singing to feel it.
On the other eight tracks, Watson seems more at ease with his 'non-classical' voice, and the music is allowed to breathe. "One More Time" is stylish in its performance and its arrangement; the swing realisation of "On The Street Where You Live" is clever and fun, and "Baby It's Cold Outside" comes to life with silky contributions from Denise Van Outen. Here Watson demonstrates a degree musical skill and style in his tuning, tone and delivery. Yes, it all sounds a bit multi-tracked and lacking in atmosphere, and the orchestral/vocal backings are generally badly defined, but at least it's within reach of the available talent. If he'd would focus more on these numbers and leave opera to the professionals, Watson might just develop a vocal style which would be recognised for its quality and honesty. It'd be genuine easy listening too, which The Voice in operatic mode certainly isn't. --Andrew Mellor
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CD Decca, 478 0126, 2007 12 Track