Ayaka Hirahara has been carefully bridging the gap between contemporary Japanese pop and classical Western music for the short duration of her career thus far. The My Classics releases take that a step further, turning classical pieces (and their close relations) to pop ballads. It's an interesting idea, and at times lets Hirahara really open up her voice to both soft passages and massive beltings. The album opens with a short interlude built off of Tchaikovsky, moving quickly into Bach's Sleepers, Wake!, singing in an English solfège that would make Bobby McFerrin proud. A rendition of Pomp and Circumstance comes out a bit strangely, but includes an introduction of gorgeous a cappella just prior to the main theme. A piece from Handel's opera Rinaldo is reworked in Japanese to good effect, and Beethoven's Joyful Joyful is done as a direct cover of the Sister Act 2 rendition. The outbreak of full gospel and hip-hop doesn't suit Hirahara as well as the more classical renditions, but it's a fair attempt on her part to modernize the sound. Rachmaninov's Symphony 12 is made into a straightforward but excellent vocal ballad. Grieg's Solveig's Song becomes a springtime ballad, but somewhat unmemorable among the other tracks. With a Spanish flair, she takes on both a classical guitar ballad and Chick Corea's "Spain," using an incredible sensitivity to the syllables as she again invokes Bobby McFerrin, running parallel to an electric bass. A piece from Carmen provides an opportunity for her to move in a more sultry fashion, which is not quite her element but worth hearing. She also gets to show off some excellent register-switching techniques here. As the album winds down, she touches on Schubert's Ave Maria with excellent form, a hyped-up bit of Tchaikovsky's Russian Dance, and a modern piece built on Beethoven's Pathétique. Hirahara has a lot of talent in both vocals and arrangements, and her renditions of classical pieces are a great way to experience that talent. Definitely worth a couple of listens.
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