Classical Barbra – [TrackList follows] Barbra Streisand, soprano/ Columbia Sym. Orch./ Claus Ogerman, piano and cond. – Sony Masterworks

by | May 17, 2013 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Classical Barbra – [TrackList follows] Barbra Streisand, soprano/ Columbia Sym. Orch./ Claus Ogerman, piano and cond. – Sony Masterworks 88691922552, 36:12 ***1/2:

I know I am going to get email on this one. Being a huge Streisand fan, when this came out in 1976 (after having been recorded in 1973) I rushed to grab it and hung onto it well into the CD era when somehow it disappeared from my collection, probably in my hasty LP dump of the early 1990s. It was a biggie at the time, achieving “gold” status in 1999 for sales of 550,000 copies. So when it appeared in my mail, I was quite excited.

But that excitement started to wane right into the first track, Debussy’s “Beau Soir”. Though Rolling Stone magazine at the time called the arrangements of Claus Ogerman “effectively understated” today I find them a little blowsy. Come to think of it, even as a junior in college music school at the time I found them somewhat overblown even then, but was willing to exercise a little restraint in judgment because it was Barbra. This and the exceptionally close miking on the soprano really distort the perspective. In fact, I am wondering if she and the orchestra were even in the studio at the same time, as often happens when recording pop albums. She does sound as if she is singing to a recording at times.

With the exception of Ogerman’s “I Loved You” this is all very great music, quite intimate in nature, and demanding a lot of discipline. For the most part she does a good job of reining in her explosive instrument and trying to maintain a sense of control and concentrated emotion. She’s a little lackluster in the latter as this is something that dedicated lieder singers work for years on in order to hone their art. I am not so happy when most opera or lieder singers turn to the pop world, with a few exceptions, so the reverse should be even more difficult and it is. This art form is not an easy thing to excel in, and Streisand, though in possession of a great technical facility, doesn’t really bring out the inner life of these songs the way a great lieder performer would. There is a sameness to the mood of this entire recording, and at least one failure—Handel’s Rinaldo.

But the voice is instantly recognizable and one gets the impression that she at least has some love for this music and is not just trying to do it because she thinks she can. This album will remain an important part of her overall recording career, a stick of rich nostalgia for her fans, and something of an historical landmark recording. For non-fans there is nothing new here that will convert you, and those who have a cursory appreciation for her music or really don’t know the singer will probably not be inspired—stick with her blockbuster albums first. But it is nice to have it back. There are in addition two previously unreleased tracks of Schubert that she sang during two different television specials, a nice bonus.

TrackList: “Beau Soir” (Claude Debussy); “Brezairola – Berceuse” from ‘Songs of the Auvergne’ (Joseph Canteloube); “Verschwiegene Liebe” (Hugo Wolf); “Pavane (Vocalise)” (Gabriel Fauré); “Après un Rêve” (Fauré); “In Trutina” from ‘Carmina Burana’ (Carl Orff); “Lascia ch’io pianga” from ‘Rinaldo’ (George Frideric Handel); “Mondnacht” (Robert Schumann); “Dank Sei Dir, Herr” (Handel); “I Loved You” (Claus Ogerman); “An Sylvia,” D.891 (Schubert); “Auf dem wasser zu singen,” D.774 (Schubert)

—Steven Ritter