Jessye Norman – The Unreleased Masters

jessyenormanunreleasedDecca have just released a 3CD set of previously unreleased recordings made by the late Jessye Norman between 1989 and 1998 with various orchestras and conductors.

The first is a series of extracts from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde recorded in Leipzig in 1998 with Kurt Masur conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra.  Besides the Prelude there’s most of the Isolde/Brangäne scenes from Act 1 (Hannah Schwarz is Brangäne).  Then comes the huge Act 2, Scene 2 duet; “Isolde! Geliebte! – Tristan! Geliebte!” etc, with Thomas Moser as Tristan, and finally, and inevitably, the “Liebestod”.  It all sounds really good with the duet properly ecstatic and the “Liebestod” very moving.  It’s a studio recording made in many takes so that challenging final scene doesn’t have to be sung after many hours on stage which no doubt contributes but it’s all very fine and a good record of Jessye in the role.

The second CD contains live recordings made with the Berlin Philharmonic and James Levine.  The first of these is the Strauss Vier Letzte Lieder.  It gets off to a slightly rocky start with a version of “Frühlung” that sounds a bit strained at the beginning but things soon get much better.  The long drawn notes of “September” are exquisite and there’s some simply gorgeous singing on “Beim Schlafengehen”.  “Im Abendrot”.  The second set id Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, made in 1992, and this is about as good as it gets vocally.  The orchestra sounds terrific too.

The third CD is the most unusual.  It contains studio recordings of three pieces recorded with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony in 1994.  The first piece is Haydn’s Scena di Berenice.which sets a Metastasio text .  The orchestration is lighter than in the Strauss or the Wagner which allows Norman to produce some lovely, controlled singing with some rather nice ornamentation.  The final aria is dramatic enough though.

It’s followed by Berlioz’ Cléopatre, which sets a thoroughly misogynistic text by Pierre-Ange Vielliard.  I’ve not heard Norman sing much French but she does it very well.  The final. piece is Britten’s Phaedra, which sets an English translation of Racine.  It’s a piece I’m rather fond of though it tends to draw a rather overwrought performance from the singer.  Norman though is clear and in harmony with the wonderful orchestration.  It’s perhaps the best version of the piece I’ve heard.

All three recordings are nicely done in standard CD quality.  It’s available as a physical 3 CD set with a well produced booklet and at a bargain price.  It’s also available, even cheaper, in MP3 and standard CD quality FLACV formats but there is no digital booklet.

Catalogue number: Decca Records 4852984


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s