Monday, February 04, 2013

Classical Barbra

I had a copy of the "Classical Barbra" LP in 1976, when it first came out, and just couldn't resist the opportunity to hear it again after many years, and to write about it here.

Barbra Steisand has a very pretty voice. She sings well in tune, and her singular way of approaching matters of diction works well with French, Italian, and German as well as with English. All of Claus Ogerman's excellent orchestral arrangements are played by the finest New York freelance musicians of the 1970s, and it sounds like the concertmaster, who has a solo in Canteloube's "Brezairola" from Songs of the Auvergne, could be the great David Nadien.

The selections with piano (at least those from the original album: Wolf's "Verschwiegene Liebe" and Schumann's "Mondnacht") have a rather grossly amplified piano to go with Streisand's amplified voice, which makes listening difficult. The balance in "In trutina" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is also odd. The two Handel arias "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Rinaldo and "Dank sei Dir, Herr" are kind of square. Steisand's voice is pretty, and she sings nicely in tune with good diction, but the interpretations are dull.

The best pieces here are Debussy's "Beau Soir," Canteloube's "Brezairola," Faure's "Pavane," which Streisand does as a totally unaffected vocalise, and his "Apres un Reve," Claus Ogerman's "I Loved You," a piece set to a Pushkin poem (in his English translation) that he wrote specifically for Streisand's voice, and two Schubert tracks that did not appear on the original LP.

The piano, probably played by Ogerman, in Schubert's "An Sylvia" and "Auf dem Wasser zu singen" does not have the unnatural treatment that the piano is given in the Wolf and Schumann, and Streisand sings these quite well.

Oh yes. Streisand is billed as a soprano, which is something she definitely isn't. All the music here is transposed into keys that are comfortable for her. There is also (thankfully) nothing that demands vocal technique that she doesn't have, which was a very smart move by the folks at Columbia.

Random afterthoughts:

Imagine if Barbra Streisand sang something by Seymour Barab (and I know he has lots of material that would work for her voice as it is today); you could call it "Barbra does Barab."


Sean said...

You might be interested in Glenn Gould's review of the same recording:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your review. I don't agree on many things: First the weirdest interpretations are IMO the two Schubert Lieder (wisely not to put them on the original album). Barbra lacks the expressiveness that is needed for Schubert Lieder.

Vocally I adore this album. As you said the arrangements were slightly changed to meet Streisand's pitch (which is probably more a mezzo than a soprano). But what she does with it is simply magical. She creates a whole new world of meanings and imaginations. Her voice sounds purer than on any of her other recordings and her French and Italian is almost perfect. As a German native speaker I must say that the German spelling lacks its clarity and accuracy.

Despite I adore "Verschwiege Liebe". I don't know what you mean when you wrote that the piano arrangement is odd?! Same goes for Schumann's "Mondnacht". In Trutina is so ethereal and a pure delight listening. Also the "new" song "I Loved You" distinguishes itself through simplicity and deep sadness. There is very much to adore on this album when you lay down your classical trained ears and let it just happen! :)