Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jessye Norman has made many excellent records, but perhaps none so wholly recommendable as this one. Her generous heart, dignified manner and noble voice seem ideally suited to Strauss's valedictory utterances, and when she made this record in June of last year she seems to have been in wonderful voice, the top soaring up to the heights more freely than has sometimes been the case of late. Her breath seems almost endless at times, her tone refulgent and full so that I doubt if the Vier letzte Lieder have sounded so rich in texture since Flagstad, their first interpreter, sang them, so placing a quite different light on them from that of Schwarzkopf or Popp (both HMV). Te Kanawa (CBS) comes closest to Norman but to my mind, at predominantly laster speeds, she comes nowhere near Norman's achievement in probing to the soul of this ineffable music.
The whole of the final section of "September", fully sung yet perfectly controlled, the added intensity at the key phrase "Und die Seele unbewacht" in "Beim Schlafengehen" with the high A flat positively radiant, and the still resignation of "so lief im Abendrot" in the last song are just some of the memorable moments that I am still savouring. Masur and the Leipzig Gewand haus provide appropriately refined, almost translucent support for the singer. My only worry is that the orchestra sometimes has that no-man's-land feeling of some digital recordings. I withdraw none of my. admiration for the merits of the earlier records listed above, but for once I would give the new version a confident nod as the one to have.
Norman's backing is comparable with Te Kanawa's: the records share three of the orchestral settings of Strauss's songs. Once more the tempos are all slower on the new disc. Wiegenlied, in particular, gains from the extra 'space', and its dreamy mood is beautifully sustained by Norman, as is the unsettled atmosphere of Ruhe, meine Seele, while Cacille and Zueignung receive the broad phrasing and bloom they call for.
A.B., Gramophone [10/1983]
Reviewing original release