Having replaced Charlotte Church as the world's favorite teenage soprano, New Zealander Hayley Westenra now releases her first retrospective at the tender age of 21. While the U.K.-focused River of Dreams: The Very Best Of may seem a tad premature, it does provide an opportunity to prove to those yet to succumb to the charms of her crystal-clear and pleasantly airy operatic voice that she's not just another cynical and manufactured classical pop puppet content to sing whatever's placed in front of her. Showcasing an independence and maturity well beyond her years, the 17-track compilation, which ignores the early material only released in her homeland and instead focuses on the three Decca classical chart-topping studio albums (in addition to three new tracks), features an array of songs personally chosen by Westenra, such as the traditional Maori tune "Now Is the Hour [Po Atarau/Haera Ra]" and Irish folk ballad "Danny Boy," both nods to her ancestor's roots, covers of songs by artists as diverse as composer Karl Jenkins (The Armed Man's "Benedictus"), Enya (The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack number "May It Be"), and Fleetwood Mac (Rumours album track "Songbird"), and an original composition, the string-soaked new age of "Summer Rain," which suggests she can add accomplished songwriter to her list of many talents. A representative overview of her five-year major-label career, there are five tracks apiece from her 2003 debut, Pure, including New Zealand love song "Pokarekare Ana" and lyrical adaptations of Winter from Vivaldi's Four Seasons ("River of Dreams") and Ravel's Pavane ("Never Say Goodbye"), and 2005 sophomore Odyssey, including her duet with Andrea Bocelli ("Dell'amore Non Si Sa") and rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," while four tracks make the cut from 2007 follow-up Treasure, including traditional folk songs "Shenandoah" and "The Water Is Wide." River of Dreams has appeared a little too early to be considered as a definitive collection, but it's a charming and enchanting collection of classical pop pieces that serves as a solid introduction to Westenra's abilities, and promises an interesting and glittering career ahead.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien
Track Listing - Disc 1
|The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring|
Track Listing - Disc 2