The first album recorded by Kiri te Kanawa, in 1964, was a collection of Maori songs, and there's certainly logic in bringing her recording career full circle with Waiata, Maori for song, in 2014. Te Kanawa has recorded and performed music reflecting her Maori heritage. (She was an orphan, adopted by a Maori family.) The Maori song repertory, which has a long history, is a fascinating one, reflecting something like the process by which Scottish and Irish songs became incorporated into Western idioms, but with a still more diverse ritual origin reflected in the songs performed by te Kanawa here. Whakaaria Mai, a version of the Swedish-American hymn How Great Thou Art, is quite authentic, for Maori musicians have consistently adapted Western sacred music for their own uses. And te Kanawa, at 70, though certainly not the singer she once was, is still vocally quite recognizable. It's too bad, therefore, that this project does not jell. The problem is not so much te Kanawa's voice, although it has few textures left, and the ones that are there begin to wear on the ears after a while. It's the combination of that voice with the overblown arrangements here, which strike a sentimental note that just does not work given the forces involved. Fans of te Kanawa will be pleased to round out their collections with this release, and it's certainly true that few other sopranos would have attempted it. For the general listener, however, the album is hard to recommend.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim