Let me begin, unfairly or not, with a few minor quibbles. First, the American tenor Noah Stewart may have a fine voice, but it seems rather presumptuous of the album’s producers to call this, his very first recording, simply Noah, as though they expected everyone to know exactly who Noah Stewart was and how important he had become. I mean, not even the Beatles released the “White Album” with just their name on the cover until well into their career as a group. Second, while, as I say, Mr. Stewart possesses a fine operatic singing voice, the album doesn’t really give him much of a chance to display it, the album being composed mainly of pop material. Third, the songs seem almost randomly assembled, willy-nilly, from gospel to popular to folk to stage to classical. And, fourth, the fourteen numbers on the disc only amount to some forty-six minutes, about right for a pop album but hardly what we expect from a classical album, even if it is a crossover release. There, now that I’ve gotten that off my mind, I can continue in a more positive vein.
Stewart, born in Harlem, NY, in 1978, attended the Juilliard School before rising to prominence in the 2011 production of Madama Butterfly. According to his biography, in 2012 his album Noah, the one reviewed here, reached number fourteen on the UK Albums Chart and number one on the UK Classical Album Chart. I can understand it’s rise on the pop chart, but I’m not at all sure why it rose so high on the classical chart, as it contains only two selections that could one could even vaguely consider “classical.” Oh, well, it’s the music that counts, and he does a nice job with it.
Stewart possesses a big, strong, firm, well-controlled voice. The opening number, “Without a Song,” demonstrates the clarity of his singing. The traditional “Deep River” shows his versatility as a popular entertainer. Puccini’s “Recondita Armonia” finds him in more vocally gymnastic form, and he negotiates the hurdles pretty well, if perhaps with a few too many trills. Nevertheless, he keeps the thrills intact, despite the reverb the sound engineers apply to the proceedings.
And so it goes. With a number of different orchestras, choruses, and small ensembles accompanying him from one selection to another, we get perhaps a more-varied assortment of material on the program than one can easily digest. It’s almost like a “greatest hits” album, if one could say the man has greatest hits. Among other tunes are “Camps de Oro,” a lovely “Cara Mia,” and effecting renditions of “Hallelujah,” “Nearer My God to Thee,” and Shenandoah.”
The jury is probably still out on Mr. Stewart. It’s hard to find anything seriously to fault, yet he doesn’t give us nearly enough to work with. The closing “Amazing Grace” and “Silent Night” close the show in quiet yet powerful fashion. While it’s all quite pleasant, don’t we have Andrea Bocelli for these kinds of things?
To compound the eccentricity of the disc’s somewhat scattershot collection of tunes, Decca recorded the album all over the place: MG Sound, Vienna; Sarm Studio, London; Germano Studios, NY; The Johann Strauss Hall, Vienna; GOSH! Studios, Vienna; Hit Galaxy Studio 2, Vienna; Air Studios, London, and The Pool Studio, London, the company releasing the product in England in 2012 and in America in 2013. The sonic results vary from one track to the next but sound typically “pop,” meaning the voice is always front and center, with various accompaniments busy in the background. The highest, loudest notes can get a touch bright, fuzzy, and raspy on some tracks, and there is a very wide dynamic range with which to contend, so keep an eye on the volume control. The overall sound is OK but nowhere near what we have come to expect from Decca’s opera recordings over the years.
To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here: