Barbra Streisand, Classical Barbra

by Vance

barbara streisand

It’s not often I get to use the phrase “sui generis” — fancy talk for “unique” — but this album truly is a genre unto itself … and to Streisand, to classical music, to new age sounds.

In the 1970s, Streisand took on all challenges: Bowie? Check. Post-Beatles John Lennon? Check. Disco? Check. Hard guitar pop? Check. Voice & piano? Check. In an amazing ten-year period, Streisand pushed her beautiful voice in every musical direction to see what she could do outside of the show tunes and quirky cabaret music that defined her 1960s output. So “going classical” was just par for the course of that decade.

Classical purists hated this album. Streisand lovers hated this album. Everyone suspected — as with the equally wonderful 1966 “Je M’appelle Barbra” album — that it would flop. And it did. However, listening to this album 35 years later, commercial considerations are irrelevant. Streisand always said she brought her acting chops to songs and created characters for each number. Most of these songs originated in opera. Doesn’t it make sense that she would be drawn to — and know what to do with — classical material?

The arrangements here are unfailingly lovely and border on the edge of “new age” — and I mean that as a compliment. Think about the best moments of a Win Mertens or a Michael Manring on Windham Hill — not a John Tesch or “Hearts in Space” treacly misstep — and you’ll get the idea of what I mean.

Her singing here is also uniformly restrained. She has nothing to prove, which ironically proves just how good she is when she jettisons irony (her standard ’60s mode) for intimacy and tenderness.

Her takes on Debussy’s “Beau Soir” and Fauré’s “Pavane” are flat-out beautiful. Coming close are Wolf’s “Verschwiegene Liebe” and Claus Ogermann’s adaptation of Pushkin’s “I Loved You” (a rare time when Pushkin also wasn’t being ironic.)

If you leave your expectations aside and think of this album as a set of ten of the best-written songs Streisand ever sang — and sang with out the occasionally overwrought belting or too-coy comic moments — you’ll be surprised at first and, eventually, as pleased as you are with an excellent red wine that leaves a warm, warm glow.

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