75 today, Barbra Streisand sings Debussy

April 24, 2017 by norman lebrecht


Barbra Streisand was born in Williamsburg, New York City, on April 24, 1942.

Here is one of her lesser-known hits, sung in a little-known language.

Full marks for trying.

Try another language?

Recorded 1973, released in 2013.

Comments (31)

  1. Ungeheuer says:

    No need to say that her few attempts at classical are a bad joke and in poor taste. But in her rightful musical realm she was a phenomenon and untouchable.

    1. Alexander says:

      couldn’t agree any more

  2. Patrick says:

    I’ve always liked this recording (since the 70s when it was first released). True, she is no Janet Baker, but she gets closer to this music than Dame Janet could ever get to Barbra’s standard repertoire. Not that it matters, really.

  3. Steinway Fanatic says:

    No question, “Classical Barbara” is the biggest selling lieder album of all time, so indeed thousands of her fans heard this music that they otherwise would never have heard. It’s also the worst-selling Streisand album – but no matter. Clearly she didn’t record this album to make money – she did it because she loved the music and wanted to give her fans something better to listen to.

    1. Mikey says:

      massive thumbs up.
      and at least Streisand had the respect for the music of trying hard to perform it in an unadulterated form (ie: no jazz accompaniment, no excess of pop vocal ticks).

      MANY people I know fell in love with the songs on this album and went on to listen to actual classical performances of the same works, and expand their listening experience.

      I say bravo to Streisand for making the effort.

      1. Theodore McGuiver says:

        Absolutely. She clearly respects the music and sings it with her incomparably beautiful and expressive voice. I’d rather have this than Kiri singing ‘I Feel Pretty’, for example, any day.

      2. Nik says:

        I wonder how many people got into folk rock after hearing Domingo sing “perkhaps llohhf” with John Denver?

  4. Robert Holmén says:

    Full marks for trying and full marks for sounding beautiful while doing it.

    She interpreted it in her own manner instead of reproducing someone else’s sound.

    If you want Barbra Streisand to not sound like Barbra Streisand you should not listen to Barbra Streisand.

    1. Ungeheuer says:

      It’s not a matter of sounding but of being immersed and schooled in the proper style, which she never was and could never claim to be. See the difference? Better yet, hear the difference?

      1. Steinway Fanatic says:

        She didn’t record this album for folks like you, so just leave it alone!

        1. Sue says:

          I could kill that pianist in the Schubert with a tomahawk!!

  5. Terry says:

    So weary, on a nearly daily basis, of having to endure Herr Unger Anger’s churlish comments. What a nasty man.

  6. V.Lind says:

    What’s little-known about French? I know Americans are usually hopeless at languages — top broadcasters and politicians say things like “N rowt” for “en route” — but singers often master the sounds for their forays into foreign songs. Joan Baez did frequently, as I recall, and certainly did one marvellous song in Portuguese. Judy Collins managed Brel’s Marieke with phrases in French and Flemish. Streisand was — and is — not an idiot. Even her German is okay.

    This album, which I had never heard of, strikes me as quite a pleasing effort by a popular singer with good pipes, based on the samples.

    1. Mikey says:

      Streisand’s French is certainly no worse than that of the dreadful American tenor I heard in the lead role of Werther, mangling every syllable such that the French-speaking audience (in Montréal, of all places) NEEDED subtitles to understand anything he was saying.

    2. Tom Hase says:

      Her German is ok?! Well, we have invaded other countries for less…

      1. Ungeheuer says:

        Hear hear

    3. Nik says:

      Joan Baez had a Mexican father and a bilingual upbringing.

  7. Sue says:

    I’m sorry she didn’t stick to singing music such as this which tested her and demonstrated her considerable talents. She was never better than her recordings “My Name is Barbra” and “People”. That was her golden period, IMO, and also her stunning performance and singing in ‘Funny Girl’ (which I watched again last night, coincidentally). After the mid 70s she resorted to shouting very uninspiring pop music and it ruined her voice. Now she’s just face-lifted like a burns victim. Why don’t these artists just give it up???!!

  8. Sue says:

    And “Sylvia” isn’t Debussy – it’s Schubert.

    1. Pianofortissimo says:

      With Barbra you cannot listen to the difference. 🙂

  9. M2N2K says:

    Nice try but unsatisfying result. In her decades-long prime she was nothing short of great in Broadway-style ballads and similar repertoire. However, Schubert and Debussy require a very different vocal approach and apparently she was not able to achieve it.

  10. Dan says:

    As a Juilliard-trained classical musician I am more than satisfied with a wonderful album– favorably reviewed by Glenn Gould. My teacher was impressed by Streisand’s sustained bel canto soprano, intonation, and diction, finding her completely understandable in both French and German, languages he also spoke. Streisand will be remembered as one of the most amazing natural (as in untrained) talents in music. Happy Birthday, Barbra!

  11. Jim says:

    For all the snobs out there…

    Leonard Bernstein wrote of the album, “Barbra Streisand’s natural ability to make music takes her over to the classical field with extraordinary ease. It’s clear that she loves these songs. In her sensitive, straightforward, and enormously appealing performance, she has given us a very special musical experience.

    Classical pianist Glenn Gould wrote: “For me, the Streisand voice is one of the natural wonders of the age, an instrument of infinite diversity and timbral resource…Nothing in this album is insensitive or unmusical”.[

    Classical Barbra earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Classical Performance – Vocal Soloist. (Beverly Sills bested Streisand on awards night.)

    Haters gonna hate. I think her effort was greaty

    1. Ungeheuer says:

      Nonsense. Could care less what the idiotic populist Sills or even fellow populist Bernstein (and I adore LB) said. Hell, I worship G Gould (mostly only in Bach and Hindemith) but, again, could care less about his opinion of BS (how appropriate) singing classical. As I said, BS’ classical record is just that, BS, an embarrassment, nearly as in poor taste as Aretha Franklin’s ‘Nessun dorma’. Oh but it’s “popular”! So are Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian. Wow, that’s some criteria! Eagerly awaiting Beyoncé’s classical crossover dreck, are you?

      1. Nik says:

        “…as in poor taste as Aretha Franklin’s ‘Nessun dorma’”
        Agree with you there. The cultured listener prefers the version by Al Bano and Romina Power.

      2. Steinway Fanatic says:

        Spoken like a true closet pop-queen!

  12. What can’t this woman Do? Incredible!

  13. Dennis says:

    Loved her delivery/sound – If she hadn’t sung these I may never have heard them – Barbra Streisand has exposed me to a lot of great music since I started listening to her in 1969.

  14. Brian says:

    This entire album was magical. No other American pop singer at the time could have pulled it off. Her voice blended with the orchestra beautifully and it’s why the album is still in print today and has even been remastered.

  15. Nick says:

    Wonderful documents of one of the most prolific artists of our time. Interestingly, for Ms. Streisand there is virtually no limit in anything she puts her mind and talent to! HAPPY 75th and many more years to come, dearest Barbra Streisand!

    (true: pianists could have been somewhat better!)

  16. James W Hall says:

    She didn’t have to release this album. She could have easily buried it. I admire her efforts over the course of her career. Some of the most beautiful singing I’ve ever heard is on this collection…and some of her worst recording(s) is on her best selling LP’s…I like that she stands by what she has done and when she did it.
    The one thing that everyone forgets about her, is that she is not “background music”…no matter what, her singing demands your attention. That is the phenomena of Streisand.

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