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Highlights: O Fortuna, Benedictus, Conquest of Paradise, The Living Years, Annie's Song, How Great Thou Art
O Fortuna came as a surprise to the majority of Rhydian Roberts's fan base as it cements his classical passion and direction. His debut album echoed a late Russell Watson pop album but this album has more in common with Watson's earlier career; including some big bang classical pieces with lush arrangements, but not shying away from pop and rock covers which Roberts did so well on his debut. Apart from the urgent need of immediate dismissal of whoever designed the album sleeve and artwork (it's dreadful) this is a top quality album, thanks to Roberts' phenomenal power and emotion.
Welsh composer Karl Jenkins lends his talents as a producer and arranger; probably the reason why the track list features three of his songs. Also flanking to Roberts artillery is fellow baritone Bryn Terfel and most surprisingly, opera superstar Kiri Te Kanawa. Perhaps these are three classy names you wouldn't expect coming from the Cowell camp (who suggested to Roberts that the album should be compiled exclusively of Welsh songs - oh dear; had he lost interest or was it a bad business-head day?) but fortunately Roberts was given more leg room for this album and his selection of collaborators demonstrates a deep understanding and respect for classical music.
Although Kiri Te Kanawa is an impressive name to have on the cover, she really wasn't necessary for Roberts' profound rendition of The Armed Man classic 'Benedictus'. Terfel provides a base for Roberts to fire great chemistry and they both manage to elevate a reasonably dull song, 'Myfanwy' into something worthwhile. The other patriotic songs, 'Anthem' and 'Land of my Fathers' do not share the same happy boast though Roberts does his best. Doing his best is the overall feel of this album. He does not put one foot wrong - all of his performances are near on flawless, packed with energy, passion and sheer capability, but he is just one voice, and he did not control all aspects of this album.
Although Jenkins arranges the songs with flair, the choir simply intervene too much. Roberts is able to sing over them with ease, but they do detract from some more of the heartfelt songs (why were they featured on 'Annie's Song' and 'I Won't Let You Walk This Road Alone'?) Appreciation of the Welsh theme aside, the choir verge on overkill. Jenkins didn't have to have quarter of the track list consist of his own compositions, either (as gorgeous as 'Ave Verum Corpus' and 'Cantilena' are). The album would have benefitted more from giving a nod to Roberts' loyal fan base by squeezing in some more light pop covers.
Songs that hit the mark include the Carl Orff epic 'O Fortuna' from Carmina Burena, Vangelis's 'Conquest of Paradise' and Stuart K Hine's religious piece 'How Great Thou Art'. All of which traditionally feature a choir anyway, so no surprises that they work. Roberts's booming vocal complements the gothic 'O Fortuna' choral piece with relative aplomb. The Mike and the Mechanics pop/rock gem, 'The Living Years' is one of the best tracks on the album. It was previously tackled by Russell Watson on his Reprise album, but Roberts conveys the lyrics with more sincerity and the arrangement is that little bit stronger. 'Annie's Song' was covered very recently by Faryl Smith but the song is much more suited to the male voice, lyrically and musically.
O Fortuna is a mighty fine album for Roberts's first serious attempt at the crossover market, though it could have done with a more varied track list and one or two more original songs ('I Won't Let You Walk This Road Alone' is the only new song on the album). Despite issues with Roberts's artistic freedom and questionable song selection, the consistent strong performance from Roberts exemplifies what he has to offer vocally and proves that he is more than just another ex-reality show contestant.
1. O Fortuna
2. Benedictus (ft. Kiri Te Kanawa)
3. Myfanwy (ft. Bryn Terfel)
4. Conquest of Paradise
5. How Great Thou Art
6. The Living Years
7. Ave Verum Corpus
8. Cantilena: Adiemus, Spirit of the Mountains
9. I Won't Let You Walk This Road Alone
11. Annie's Song
12. Land of my Fathers