08 Nov 2005

Hear My Prayer

This anthology, a twentieth-anniversary commemoration of Aled Jones’ first recording for the Welsh company, Sain, is a re-issue of that 1983 recording, “Diolch â Chân,” along with several other tracks from the mid-1980’s. Jones stepped out of the choir stalls at Bangor Cathedral to become a highly marketed treble, and his relative celebrity, as attested here, was well deserved.

The recording’s program is wide ranging, and includes classics like Mendelssohn’s demanding “Hear My Prayer,” Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum,” and the “Pie Jesu” from Faure’s Requiem, chestnuts like Malotte’s “Lord’s Prayer,” Franck’s “Panis Angelicus,” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” a number of lesser known works like Michael Head’s Christmas jewel, “The Little Road to Bethlehem,” or Fred Cowan’s “The Children’s Home”--Victoriana at its most Victorian--and even a pop song or two, for good measure. The program is an old-fashioned one, decidedly lacking in musical sophistication, but remarkably well suited to display the musical gift of a then remarkable young boy.

Jones’ sound is an engaging one, more soloistic than choral, with a vibrato that surprises at first hearing, but that grows increasingly congenial with repeated hearings. He sings with commanding confidence, expressive flair, and a mature sense of line and contoured phrasing, all of which underscore his giftedness. Particularly memorable here is his exquisite rendition of the Faure “Pie Jesu” (unusual in a Welsh translation) and his “Hear My Prayer,” a performance that is dramatic and dynamic, as well as a considerable test of endurance . . . a test he amply survives.

There are problems here and there. Most notable perhaps is that all of the pieces tend to sound stylistically the same—the style is uniformly “Aled.” And that, as I have noted, is engaging and impressive, but the uniformity of style seems to underscore the youthfulness of the endeavor. Two of the pieces, the title anthem and the Mozart “Laudate Dominum” are with choir and organ. And here, ensemble coordination is problematic, with the organ conspicuously out of synch on occasion, and the choir from time to time overly robust in its enthusiasm.

Today Jones is prominent in the UK as both a singer and a broadcaster with the BBC. His days of cassock and ruff and the first row of the choir are long past, but one can only suspect that they have served him well. Certainly he was a boy treble of great distinction.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College