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Highlights: Winter In July, Figlio Perduto, A Whiter Shade of Pale, He Doesn't See Me, Hijo De La Luna, La Califfa, La Luna
This album is the last of Sarah Brightman's defining albums trio: Timeless (1997), Eden (1998) and La Luna (2000). These albums were the triple whammy that made a major contribution to what the classical crossover genre is today and whilst all three are masterly, La Luna can take the prize for its sheer artistry. Brightman usually bases her albums on a single theme (the most obvious example prior to La Luna is Dive, which is based on the ocean). Literally translated as 'the moon' in English, La Luna has a dark majestic sound that plays with musical notions of night and space.
The album opens up with the gentle 'La Lune', a combination of space and radio sounds followed by a sweet French interlude before it explodes into La Luna's most beat driven track, 'Winter in July', originally a UK chart hit for Bomb the Bass in 1991. Brightman has a similar voice to the song's vocalist, Loretta Heywood, but the arrangement is surely superior to the original. Other upbeat numbers include pop covers 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' (Procul Harum), and a less successful overblown 'Here With Me' which was released by Dido only a year before. As odd as the choices may be, Brightman makes the former work surprisingly well as her light soprano is nothing short of glorious during the track's chorus. The latter is pleasant, but with the exception of the strong finish, it doesn't make any alterations to Dido's version.
The remainder of the album has a much more calm and serious sound that features the work of Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Handel and Dvorák though not always in the way you may expect. The utter triumph and highlight of this album is arguably 'Figlio Perduto', an original song adapted from the second movement of Beethoven's less obvious Seventh Symphony that defines classical crossover at its best. It's deliciously dark and atmospheric; Brightman's vocal is subdued throughout most of the piece (she explodes in full operatic power at the finale) and the choir pump it with gothic urgency. Producer Frank Peterson composes a beautiful interlude, 'Serenade', for Rachmaninov's short but divine 'How Fair This Place'. A classical piece is again adapted, Handel's 'Dank Sei Dir, Herr', into the Italian 'Solo Con Te' with a relaxing and smooth performance from Brightman. The album ends as it began with 'the moon' as Brightman tackles Dvorák's aria 'La Luna', providing it both with her softer pop tones for the verses and then as much power as she can muster for the chorus.
Some standards make their way in (though with the exception of 'Scarborough Fair' they were unusual choices at the time). 'Hijo de la Luna' is a Spanish narrative piece that is often found on crossover albums now which was originated by the Spanish pop band Mecano. After the success of Ennio Morricone's adaptation of 'Gabriel's Oboe' to 'Nella Fantasia' on her Eden album, Brightman gives him another nod with the sublime 'La Califfa' which has also gained much strength in crossover repertoire.
The touching 'He Doesn't See Me', Craig Armstrong's haunting 'This Love' and the odd, jazzy and morbid number 'Gloomy Sunday' makes up the rest of what is an impeccable track list. The first is better known as 'She Doesn't See Me', originally from the soundtrack of a French film and converted into English by the nineties boy band A1. The celtic and rich orchestral arrangement doesn't show any signs that it was ever a pop song, though it's one of the more melodic tracks with a stunning bridge. 'This Love' is a moody and pleasing track, though its length and simple structure makes it a bit repetitive, whilst 'Gloomy Sunday' tends to stick out like a sore thumb as it explores a different style from the rest of the album.
La Luna is a classic album of the genre, building on what Eden and Timeless already achieved, its innovative ideas and techniques cemented conventions that have since been taken up by countless of other crossover artists. It sets up high standards for what crossover artists should preferably be doing: expansion, not stagnation. If Brightman doesn't irritate you to your bones (she's certainly crossover's answer to marmite) La Luna is a vital album to have in any classical crossover collection.
1. La Lune
2. Winter in July
3. Scarborough Fair
4. Figlio Perduto
5. A Whiter Shade of Pale
6. He Doesn't See Me
8. How Fair This Place
9. Hijo De La Luna
10. Here With Me
11. La Califfa
12. This Love
13. Solo Con Te
14. Gloomy Sunday
15. La Luna
(some editions include 'Moon River' as a bonus track)