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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
All’ mein’ Gedanken Op. 21/1 [1:20]
Nachtgang Op. 29/3 [3:13]
Du meines Herzens Krönelein, Op. 21/2 [2:43]
Allerseelen, Op. 10/8 [3:42]
Ständchen, Op. 17/ 2 [3:01]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
From: Six chantes Op. 65 (1888) [11:33]
Sérénade: Où vas-tu, soufflé d’aurore [2:20]
Déception [3:10]
Sérénade: J’aime dans le rayon [4:05]
Rondel [1:58]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Wesendonck Lieder (1857/8) [24:07]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
From: Brettl-Lieder (1901) [20:23]
Galathea [3:45]
Gigerlette [2:05]
Der genügsame Liebhaber [3:24]
Einfältiges Lied [2:17]
Mahnung [4:34]
Arie aus dem Spiegel von Arcadien [4:18]
Zueignung Op. 10/1 [2:12]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Habanera from “Carmen” [5:16]
Jessye Norman (soprano)
James Levine (piano)
rec. live 6 August, 1991, Groβes Festspielhaus, Salzburg.
ORFEO C926161B [79:57]

This recital was one of sixteen Jessye Norman gave at the Salzburg Festival, recorded when she was in her absolute prime, her voice lustrous and even throughout its impressive range. It also demonstrates her extraordinary versatility – including a facility for humour which is too often overlooked by critics when appraising this deeply thoughtful and committed artist.

That sense of fun is transmitted via her delivery of a Norman concert favourite and the most unusual items here: a selection of six songs from Schoenberg’s “Brettl-Lieder” They were written by the young and struggling composer for cabaret performance and hardly typical either musically or temperamentally of what we tend to think of as his oeuvre but undoubtedly good fun, the perfect vehicle for Norman to shake off any suggestion of the staidness which some find in her singing and demeanour. She slides, swoops, yowls and pouts deliciously to convey the often louche, satirical and sentimental content. She lightens her tone and lets rip; my only regret is that the absence of texts means that non-German speakers will be left guessing the details. (Interestingly, the last song is set to lyrics by Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart’s librettist for “Die Zauberflöte”. Background information and summaries for some of them can be looked up online on the AllMusic website.)

However, for many listeners, the Brettl-Lieder will be no more than a pleasant diversion; the prize items will be Strauss’ songs and Wagner’s “Wesendonck Lieder”. The four songs from Tchaikovsky’s “Six chantes” are delightful but perhaps ultimately lesser music. Apart from their intrinsic charm they do, however, provide the opportunity to hear Norman’s lovely French diction and once again showcases her ability to lighten her voice to convey Gallic insouciance; after all, she made a great success of singing the lead roles in Offenbach’s operettas. The Strauss and Wagner Lieder are treated to rich, powerful performances; her big, weighty delivery is matched by the dynamism of Levine’s pianism. Norman deliberately imparts a more burnished quality to her voice; her reserves of breath seem endless, her top A is secure and poised, and her legato is silky.

There are two encores: Strauss’ rightly celebrated “Zueignung” is rendered magisterially but I confess that as much I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of this Liederabend, I find the exceptionally slow tempo of the “Habanera” grotesquely protracted, for all that it permits Norman to exploit that famous long-breathed quality and her smoky, seductive timbre. The audience appears to love it; maybe you had to be there.

The sound is exemplary, as is Levine’s accompaniment; he is as gifted a pianist as he is a conductor and makes the perfect partner here. Some inconsiderate coughing mars a few tracks, especially at the beginning of “Träume”. The only applause is at the end of each section of songs, as is the welcome custom.

Ralph Moore



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