Hot on the heels of February’s Alfie Boe Album of the Month, Love Was A Dream, we come to the featured album for March, Onward.
Onward, released in 2007 was Alfie’s first album with EMI and the track list reflects the religious theme that the label wanted Alfie to record. Reading his autobiography, My Story, Alfie had definite ideas about the arias that he wanted to sing (Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Verdi’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Mozart’s Requiem) but EMI instead chose the populist route of Lord is My Shepherd, Amazing Grace etc. These are beautifully sung by Alfie but I think the label really missed a trick in not going with Alfie’s choices. Having said that, Onward was nominated for Best Album at the Classical Brit Awards so what do I know? The following clip is from Songs of Praise, I Wonder As I Wander, one of a couple of Christmas tracks on the album:
From the recent thoughtsofjustafan survey, Onward is one of the less well owned albums (72% of respondents own it) and this could well be that some fans are not religiously inclined and do not want to buy an album of (mainly) hymns. Alternatively, it could be that it dates from Alfie’s pre Les Mis days and is therefore less well known. Again, having said that, most of the songs here (click here for the complete track list) also appear on Alfie’s later You’ll Never Walk Alone which recently came back into the Classical Top Ten and stayed there for several weeks.
To those who are in the former category, I would say that you definitely do not have to be religious to appreciate the beauty of Onward. Alfie’s voice soars over each song and as with most of his music, I struggle to think of anyone else singing them now. As a man of faith, I think he brings something extra to this album for that reason – it was interesting that he chose Be Still, My Soul as his faith song on Good Morning Sunday in 2014. It clearly means a lot to him. He also sang this particular hymn on Songs of Praise, The Big Sing in 2012:
In my view, the most successful tracks are Britten’s Balulalow, Rossini’s Cujus Animam and the sheer beauty of Alison Krauss’s A Living Prayer which opens the album. For different reasons, all three tracks showcase the depth and strength of Alfie’s voice as well as his classical training and technique. In his book, Alfie says that he would like to re-record A Living Prayer as he felt they couldn’t do it justice due to time constraints during recording; wouldn’t it also be lovely if he also revisited Cujus Animam?
Although from reading Alfie’s story you might think that this is Alfie’s least favourite album (or at least least professionally satisfying), the material is amongst some of his most regularly performed repertoire from his early recording career. That is probably because of the religious nature of the tracks and Alfie has appeared at a fair amount of concerts and TV programmes with a religious feel; The MoTab Christmas Concert, Songs of Praise and The Festival of Remembrance spring to mind.
I find that I don’t listen to Onward as much as I do other Alfie albums although I do find that as each of Alfie’s albums has it’s own voice, there is often a space in my life that Onward fits into perfectly. If peace and solace is what you need, Onward is a pretty good place to start. Click on the image below to order:
Alfie’s autobiography, My Story, is also available:
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What a coincidence – I’ve been listening to this album this morning and love all the tracks you mention and this version of The Lord is my Shepherd is absolutely beautiful. I would love to hear Alfie singing Handel’s Messiah and Verdi’s Requiem.
I’ve also been thinking recently, if he could do something similar to the Classic FM album, which arias would he choose to sing?