Jessye Norman’s top 10

Jessye Norman’s top 10


norman lebrecht

October 02, 2019

I can’t cross the road at the moment without a Jessye Norman playlist running through my head so central was she to the recording process. Her ten best? Something along this selection:

10 Wagner, Walküre (just to show she could) Met/Levine

9 Mahler, 2nd symphony (nightmare sessions: I was there) Vienna Phil/Maazel

8 Mahler 3rd (smoother) Vienna/Abbado

7 Beethoven 9 Chicago/Solti

6 Purcell, Dido and Aeneas English CO/Leppard

5 Berlioz, Nuits d’été LSO/Colin Davis

4 Schoenberg, Erwartung Met/Levine

3 Brahms Lieder Barenboim

2 Berg, Frühe Lieder LSO/Boulez

and, inevitably, her epoch-making best-seller

1 Strauss, Four Last Songs (Gewandhaus/Masur)

Jessye with Philips label chief Costa Pilavachi



  • batonbaton says:

    These lists are always personal choices – mine would not include anything by Maazel or Solti for a start – both over-rated timebeaters who found position by sometimes being in the right place at the right time rather than having much actual talent. That said, yes the Four Last Songs with Masur is rightly a pinnacle of achievement by any standards, but don’t forget the orchestral lieder that are also on that recording. Heartbreakingly beautiful.

    • Rgiarola says:

      You remind me an old Trombone player of London Philharmonic. He could’t keep Solti without a bad word in any sentence. Even on sentences said by others.
      Trully personnal issues.

      • batonbaton says:

        Thanks, but I am not an old anything. And I met both Solti and Maazel on several occasions – both vain, rude, self-obsessed and out for all they could get. Not all conductors are like that.

        • Stuart says:

          I attended 18 CSO seasons and heard a lot of Solti’s conducting. I met him on four occasions. I never found him to be “(both) vain, rude, self-obsessed and out for all (he) could get.” Your comment about Solti being an “over-rated timebeater who found position by sometimes being in the right place at the right time rather than having much actual talent” isn’t backed up by anything but your own odd views. Happy for you to have such views, but my experiences are quite different. Listen to his 1961 live Covent Garden Die Walkure, or any half dozen of his Verdi studio records or those of the operas by Strauss. Time beater? Mahler’s 8th. The list goes on. I know, it is personal preference, but really…

          • ffs says:

            All a conductor has to in Mahler 8 is give the basic entrances and shape an overall tempo – anything else is pointless waste of time and effort with that lumbering hulk of a work. And, true, Solti could be charming, but he could also be sour at times, as can we all be. Personally, I think his Verdi stinks but that’s my taste, particularly if compared to Abbado, etc.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Solti certainly raised standards at the ROH, and got them up to the first rank of opera companies. Most of the musicians admit the great effect he had when he went there.

      Where you are right is that he was somewhat fortunate to get such good gigs at the end of the second world war which in more normal times would probably have been denied him that early in his career.

  • Alan says:

    I am very fond of the recording she made of Brahms lieder with Geoffrey Parsons and featuring the two gorgeous songs with viola and piano.

  • Gustavo says:

    Would like to add:

    Wagner, Walküre (perfect diction) Dresden/Janowski 1981

  • cym says:

    And her moving singing of ‘La Marseillaise’ during the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution, in the streets of Paris, draped with a French flag.

  • Prix d'excellence says:

    No mention is made of her album Les chemins de l’amour, which was a superb album of French song, some exquisite Duparc and Poulenc. I was fortunate to have accompanied many of Pierre Bernac’s students in the 70’s, and although I never played for Jessye, Bernac always held her in very high esteem. This album is testament to that time when she studied with Bernac, and contains some beautiful singing.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    Her Rückert-Lieder, particularly a “Live from Lincoln Center” broadcast with Zubin Mehta, are absolutely stunning.

  • Richard Craig says:

    the world is a lesser place without Miss Normans wonderful voice,i count myself very lucky to have heard her live on a few occasions she certainly had great stage pressence and could engage an audience.her interepretation of Strauss.s 4 last songs is for me one of the greatest recordings ever made.

  • Ross Amico says:

    All great. I might add, those Schoenberg cabaret songs on the “Erwartung” disc are 30 minutes of pure delight.

    I’m also partial to her recording of Chausson’s “Poème de l’amour et de la mer.”

  • Karl says:

    Nuits d’été are good, but my favorite is her 4 Last Songs with Masur.

  • Bruce says:

    A few more to consider:

    · Mahler: Das Lied – Levine/ Berlin

    · Mahler: Kindertotenlieder – Ozawa/ Boston

    · Wagner: Isoldes Liebestod – Karajan/ Vienna

    · Strauss: Salome – Ozawa/ Dresden

    · Chausson: Poème de L’Amour et de la Met – Jordan/ Monte Carlo

    • Bruce says:

      *de la MER, sorry :-/

    • David K. Nelson says:

      And another Das Lied von der Erde with Colin Davis and the LSO (w/Vickers) oh Philips. In fact cueing up Der Abschied tonight makes a lot of sense.

      I also need to go to my box of concert programs and remind myself of what I heard her sing in recital. I hope I followed my usual practice of scribbling in the encores.

  • Michael in Missouri says:

    After the justly revered Four Last Songs, my favorite of all her recordings is the complete recording of GLuck’s Alceste under Serge Beaudo, done for Orfeo. That role fit her voice absolutely perfectly and she sounds like a dream on it.

  • Steven says:

    Her recording of Gretchen am Spinnrade is my favorite. “Und ach, sein Kuss.” Heartbreaking.

  • Grabenassel says:

    Not to forget this incredible interpretation of Schuberts „Erlkönig“ – donˋt give too much attention to the special video-effects….

  • Greg Bottini says:

    All the above suggestions are great!
    (I write from San Francisco, and because of the time difference, my comments are often the last in line.)
    If I haven’t yet heard some of them, I will remedy that soonest.
    I’m not going to make my own list here, but I must say that I’ve always enjoyed Jessye singing in French. I really love the “Les chemins de l’amour” CD, and I love her singing on her Carmen recording (curse the fact that Ozawa was the conductor – he showed absolutely no comprehension of the opera).
    Brava, Jessye!

  • John Boundy says:

    I would also add Tippett’s A Child Of Our Time under Colin Davis with Janet Baker…..the way she sang the spiritual settings with that breath control were amazing

  • nomen nescio says:

    There`s a beautiful video of Vier Letze Lieder with Wolfgang Sawallisch:

    Also, a rare, and stunning, video of a spiritual “Great Day”:

  • Tromba in F says:

    Gurrelieder with Boston and Ozawa