To the Stars: Sarah Brightman – The Trees They Grow So High

After a seemingly endless sea of musical theatre and dance singles, some of which were more enjoyable than others, Sarah Brightman finally releases her debut album. The Trees They Grow So High came out in 1988.

This is a collection of folk songs arranged by English composer Benjamin Britten, the first composer to be given a life peerage in the United Kingdom. Why is that important? It’s not.

Brightman is accompanied by Australian pianist Geoffrey Parsons, a renowned and respected accompanist to singers and other musicians the world over. His playing is subtle, allowing Brightman’s voice to shimmer and shine through. Parsons avoids overenthusiastic flourishes, acknowledging that the star of the record is the singer.

As mentioned, this is a collection of folk songs. Your mileage may vary, but most of the material is light and sort of medieval. That works at times and doesn’t work at others. It certainly isn’t a good wake-up record and the music can blend together at times, with very little distinction between tracks.

Listening to The Trees They Grow So High now is a little like checking out a burgeoning artist with a killer voice in a small theatre. The singer is talented and the voice is clear, but the program leaves a lot to be desired and a scan of the crowd reveals a number of heads having trouble remaining in upright positions.

At times, Brightman seems to sing the soundtrack for the Jane Austen era (“The Plough Boy”). Other times, she takes to English folk songs from the late 1700s (“Early One Morning”) and mid-1800s (“Sweet Polly Oliver”) with unblemished but dated tone.

To a degree, this is an interesting album to have because it preserves the folk music of an earlier time with dignity and class. It isn’t the most immediately listenable record in Brightman’s oeuvre, however, and her refusal to return to the well seems to speak to that. These songs aren’t exactly trotted out now by the soprano – and probably for good reason.

For a debut, The Trees They Grow So High doesn’t really introduce a new or interesting Sarah Brightman to the world. It does introduce a set of curious but dull folk songs, sung well with minimalistic piano accompaniment. It may bore the elderly residents of any given nursing home to tears, but it’s a valiant effort nevertheless.

NOTE: As some astute readers may be aware, this To the Stars series is designed to interlace with the January 22, 2013 release of Sarah Brightman’s new album Dreamchaser. You can check out more details on that release and listen to the new single “Angel” on her official website.

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