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Customer reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover)
Format: Audio CD|Change
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 March 2010
I am giving this disc a rare five stars, largely because it is an example of where the sum is more than its parts. Despite reservations on the initial play, I thoroughly warmed to the selection on each subsequent playing. Sure, there is often a disappointment to be had in Sting's voice - sometimes making you wince - but the intimacy and the imagination of the arrangements are warming.

Indeed, for a winter album, the opening is warm with the soft trumpet playing of Ibrahim Maalouf, but the harmonic vocal changes at the song's end gives an inkling of the little gems that litter this collection. The first track is called `Gabriel's Message' and might give an indication of explicit religiosity throughout the album. But there are only five songs that carry this connotation, and Sting makes plain in the fulsome accompanying booklet that instead the Christian story "and the older traditions of the winter solstice ... are our common cultural heritage, and as such need to be kept alive through reinterpretation within the context of contemporary thinking, even if that thinking is essentially agnostic." The only sound of a Christmas carol is that of `God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' played high above the song `Soul Cake'.

I have mentioned the problem with Sting's voice. On `Cold Song', one laments its presence, but when you read the lyrics one judges how well his interpretation fits. Equally, his voice on `The Snow It Melts the Soonest' is a voice with possibilities, but also one that is honest. The instrumental accompaniment is sometimes minimal, sometimes a crowd, with some fantastic seasoned musicians. The highlights for me are the strings in the atmospheric `Now Winter Comes Slowly' that successfully convey the cold, and equally the voices in the spine-tingling `Bulalalow'.

The songs are very well chosen and vary from the traditional to the modern, via such diverse composers as Praetorius, Purcell, Bach, Schubert, and Warlock. Sting includes a version of `The Hounds of Winter', whose interesting alternative arrangement makes the passionate lament more subtle. The only song on the album I would skip is the `Cherry Tree Carol', simply because its lack of modulation lends itself to boredom.

This is not a Sting album; it is an album about winter, so for those expecting something similar to the usual Sting album might be disappointed - or, like me, you might be charmed. It is far better than the reviews it received, probably because it relies on more than one listening. I will certainly pull it out of the collection for playing every winter.

So, Sting, when's the spring album due?
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on 24 November 2009
I bought this as a way of easing myself into my winter/xmas listening, as entities with 'winter' in the title somehow appeal to me; and I have recently read Sting's autobiography (cheap in paperback from a remainder bookshop) and found this to be well-written. Apart from these, I had left Mr Sumner behind at 'An Englishman in New York'.
The vocalist seems to have researched the roots of this music well but - though traditional English folk interests me - I find that it falls between stools: neither true folk, nor rock/pop.
Where I have heard the songs before, as with the obscure 'The Snow It Melts the Soonest', I cannot help but tend towards the earlier-heard version (in this case on BBC radio's 'Folkweave' in the 1970s). Sting also includes my favourite carol 'A Great and Mighty Wonder', but with a different title and 'lyrics'/
This album (is that what they still call them, in the age of download?) scores 4 stars, for accomplishment. Some might claim that it's a 'pose', but I don't think this is true. However, it is rather too intense to enjoy, and I found myself skipping through tracks to find a reasonable start-point. Only recommendable to die-hard purists.
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on 1 February 2010
I bought this album as i'd seen Sting talk about it on television a fair bit and then over the Christmas holiday there was a documentary about it with songs from the album being performed in Durham Cathedral.

It was just something a little different for me, and a folk based album using songs going back over 5 centuries i found unusual. I've never bought any of Sting's music before.

I'd say it is more suited for listening to over the Christmas period rather than just the winter season and it will most certainly be played often during holiday time by me and a nice addition to the Christmas music collection i have. There are most certainly some excellent musicians that have been used on this album too.

Would recommend the album to anyone who likes folk music or just wants something 'different' to explore in the music field. Really enjoyed it!
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VINE VOICEon 3 January 2010
Despite the polarised opinion regarding this album,the blend of wintry traditional songs delivered in a smoky,jazzy style certainly works for me. If you still hanker after 'Roxanne' Sting or Englishman in New York' Sting then leave well alone. The Geordie singer has recorded something which is a million miles from his pop roots and which is almost classical in its delivery. The album has been brilliantly mixed to bring out that unique voice and the complex array of instruments and backing vocalists without any element overwhelming the other.
It's a perfect album for listening to on a dark winter's night,in front of a roaring log fire with a glass of malt in your hand !
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on 6 December 2010
The idea of this album appealed to me - but listening to it I find that the reality appalls me. Backing musicians, vocals and arrangement are superb (that's why I give it a generous two stars). But why on earth does Sting sound like he is singing with a mouth full of christmas pudding? Sorry, I can't take this seriously, it sounds like a cheap parody. An album that would have been worth hearing with another lead vocal, or even Sting singing in his normal register and without his mouth full!
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on 2 November 2009
I'm sad to see the bad reviews as this album is beautiful. After Songs from the Labyrinth it would have been nice to have a new 'rock' album from Sting, but nevertheless, this album shows the usual care and attention Sting brings to his music. The traditional songs are anything but pretentious, and I wonder if the reviewers who find them so are just objecting to being educated a little, surely if these are pretentious then so are the Christmas carols we sing every year? The album also includes 'Lullaby for an anxious child' a B side I've been hunting for since I lost my cassette copy of the single it was on - so that's worth it alone!

Sting doesn't need to ever produce any new music every again, and I like to be taken on these little adventures into the past with him every now and again. Bring on Christmas, snow, log fires and all those traditional Christmas carols and now these forgotten winter songs.
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on 12 November 2009
I bought this album because I enjoy and respect the music of the traditional musicians involved (in particular Kathryn Tickell, Julian Sutton, and Mary Macmaster), and also because I really enjoyed some of Sting's work back in the 80s. I'm always curious to check out mainstream and folk collaborations, because they can and sometimes do serve to highlight the passionate and beautiful work of the UK's finest traditional musicians to an audience who wouldn't ordinarily hear them. There are inevitable occasions when those collaborations simply don't work however, and I think this is one of them. The result is impossible (for me personally, with my background in writing about & photographing the folk scene) to listen to with any degree of pleasure. I still have a couple of Sting albums from years ago, and rated him in the past as a really good pop musician, but this album seems (and feels) like pure self-indulgence. And let's be honest, the album's timing, being released just before Christmas (viz. snowy cover, Sting and trusty dog), does smack of more than a touch of commercialism!

The real problem with this album is Sting's disconcerting vocals. They make for very difficult listening if you come to these songs through a background/love of folk song and traditional music - the songs themselves hold rich appeal for folkies. Most folk singers retain their regional accents, and play their traditional instruments with passion and reverence. Whilst the instrumentation on this album is faultless, sublime even, Sting's mish-mash of accents veers from mid-Atlantic (which strikes me as his safest territory!) through to some kind of rustic Northumbrian burr on a very difficult rendition of 'The Snow it Melts the Soonest.' There's even a touch of Scottish drawl (I think!) in 'Christmas At Sea.' Some of the vocals, especially at his voice's lower register, adopt a very strange intonation, as if Sting is purporting or aspiring to be a singer of sacred songs. It's very uncomfortable listening! I am very interested to hear the views/reactions of people who love traditional music as I do, who've listened to this 'tribute to the tradition' in its entirety. I was so shocked at my response that I did some research into Sting's roots, knowing he was once a canny lad from Wallsend on Tyne. I found a quote attributed to him that both surprised and shocked me: 'I learned to change my accent; in England, your accent identifies you very strongly with a class, and I did not want to be held back.' (He forgot that your accent also links you with roots, your past, where you came from, and that delightful regional uniqueness you find in so much 'real' traditional music). If that quote is correctly attributed, it explains everything that is wrong about this album.

Sting's interest in Northumbrian music is well known (I loved `Fields of Gold' featuring Kathryn Tickell's exquisite Northumbrian pipes) but this recording just doesn't cut the mustard or pay adequate tribute to the rich song tradition of the British Isles. The result sounds like what must surely happen when a very successful musician is able to indulge every whim, without benefit of the honest advice and opinion of colleagues. The vocals don't do justice to the songs at all and I would not recommend it to anyone who seeks authenticity in music. You'll be fine if you're a devoted Sting fan of course. I like to think my CD money went straight into the pockets of the fantastic folk musicians contributing to this album, not into Sting's!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 18 November 2009
Compare and contrast celebrity Christmas albums.
Tori Amos' 'Midwinter Graces' vs Sting's 'If On
A Winter's Night'.
"Come on Wolf", I hear you say, "A puerile exercise!"

Mr Sting has his devotees. Of this there can be no doubt.
There have been moments when I have understood the whys and
wherefores of this phenomenon and times when I have failed
to fathom the laurels he has garnered in a long career.

This seasonal offering will doubtless sell by the lorry-load
and I may once again be pilloried and pelted with vile
substances for daring to challenge popular opinion.

'If On A Winter's Night' is a middle-of-the-road,
lacklustre and wholly po-faced affair.

What on earth has happened to Mr Sting's voice ?
That it will have deepened with the passing years
is entirely understandable. His once high(ish) tenor
is now a dark brown (and potentially fine) baritone.
What troubles me, however, goes beyond the realm
of pitch and timbre. It is his increasingly strange
way with the words.
Opening track 'Gabriel's Message' might well have been
a winner but Mr Sting's surreally stilted diction and
enunciation are truly, truly, horrible.

This problem crops up again and again throughout the album.

'Christmas At Sea' gets an equally bizarre vocal treatment.
Perhaps he is acting a role and I have misunderstood his
intentions - he has long been an actor of sorts after all.
Who could forget his central role in Richard Loncraine's
1982 film adaptation of Denis Potter's play
'Brimstone and Treacle'? I have tried hard to expunge it
from my memory but clearly failed !

Poor Mr Schubert gets an un-called-for and undeserved
pasting with Mr Sumner's disingenuous adaptation of
the liede 'Der Leirman' from the 'Winterreise' song-cycle.
To hear such a wonderful composition twisted out of shape
with total disregard to its original meaning and context
is unforgivable!

Oh goodness me ! By the time I got to 'Cold Song' my flesh
was really creeping (and not in a good way!).
The breathy, forced vowels and hollow vocal tone
deliver some of the most unpleasant sounds it has
been my misfortune to encounter this year.

I'll try to sum up the problem with one word - AFFECTATION.

The project is riddled with it from nose to tail.

Before investing in this execrable release I entreat you to
give Ms Amos' 'Midwinter Graces' a listen.
It is an honest and heartfelt contribution to the festive season.

Beauty is way ahead of the Beast given the evidence available here.

At Your Own Risk.
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on 1 December 2009
Sting is here again in the same vein as his Dowland recordings, it seems that the semi-classical has gotten to him. Semi-classical because clearly he does not have a voice trained and formed to sing Dowland or airs for tenors or contra tenors (and this will not change), but he clearly lends a charm to his recordings and I like this odd impression. It is different and refreshing although his mastery lies in pop songs.
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on 7 May 2012
It's the curse of over-promotion, in 2009 Sting appeared on every programme going and a different version of his cathedral concert was broadcast by the BBC, and all of those live versions felt better than this album, certainly for the best track in my opinion, Christmas At Sea. Still one for the collection for any fan but if you like the way the songs were performed on Jools Holland, get the DVD first.
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