Jessye Norman

The Very Best of Jessye Norman

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This is a fine introduction to Jessye Norman's work and expands on a couple of her earlier "best of" releases, but even so, it represents a limited portion of her wide repertoire. The first disc is all German Romantic works, beginning with scenes from Wagner that she recorded in the late '80s with the London Philharmonic and Klaus Tennstedt. The first of these are for Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, the role in which she made her opera debut in 1969, followed by one from Tristan und Isolde. These scenes are followed by Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, a few Schubert Lieder, and an excerpt from Brahms' Deutsche Requiem. The Lieder, and most of the songs on the second disc as well, are with pianist Irwin Gage and are from very early in her professional career. There are a couple of small spots in the Schubert where she seems not entirely comfortable with these works yet and has some trouble getting the right sound for them. She is otherwise impressive for her sound, range, understanding of the text and context of each work, and confidence; and yet she sounds still more comfortable in the French repertoire, found on the second disc. There are selections from Offenbach, an excerpt from Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, and songs by Ravel and Poulenc. The lighthearted nature of the Offenbach, plus the fact that the scenes involve other singers as well (unlike the Wagner), lets her loosen up a little; the action and emotion of each scene don't depend on her alone. The ease with which she interprets the Poulenc cycle La fraîcheur et le feu is perhaps attributable to her studies with Pierre Bernac, for whom Poulenc wrote most of his songs.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Les contes d'Hoffmann, opera in 4 acts
1
4:23
2
2:13
3
6:51
4
3:47
Roméo et Juliette, for alto, tenor, bass, chorus & orchestra ("symphonie dramatique"), H.79 (Op. 17)
5
6:56
Chansons madécasses, song cycle for soprano, flute, cello & piano
6
5:25
7
3:34
8
4:08
9
4:13
10
4:20
11
4:18
La fraîcheur et le feu, song cycle for voice & piano, FP 147
12
1:13
13
0:48
14
1:52
15
0:25
16
1:27
17
1:51
18
0:55
La belle Hélène, operetta in 3 acts
19
3:30
20
4:53
21
2:24
22
4:22
blue highlight denotes track pick