Friday, 11 May 2007 Reviews Album

FOR THE RECORD: "Streisand: Live in Concert 2006"
Barbra Streisand's voice is arguably the most recognizable sound of any American-born singer living today. It is a voice that has graced the Broadway stage, countless records and films as well as concert stages throughout the world. The award-winning actress is blessed with a rich, full, lush sound that ranges from smoky low notes through a gloriously pure middle register to a powerful high belt that reverberates with an emotion-filled vibrato.

Streisand's recent 2006 fall tour, which was co-directed by the Academy Award winner and Richard Jay-Alexander, was thankfully recorded and recently released in a lavish-two disc set by Columbia Records. Entitled "Streisand: Live in Concert 2006," the recording brims with a palpable excitement; just listen to the roar of the audience the moment the overture — the original Broadway Funny Girl Overture — begins. Streisand's simple murmur of "wow" as she enters the stage is equally telling of the lovefest that occurred between performer and audience as she made her way to cities throughout the country.

For her recent tour Streisand chose to revisit many tunes from her early career, including a healthy dose from both the stage and film incarnations of Funny Girl. But the celebrated performer wasn't content to rest on her laurels — she also tackled songs she had never before performed onstage, including her stentorian opening number, Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire's "Starting Here, Starting Now." Should fans have been at all concerned, that opening number proved that Streisand's voice is still in fighting form. Some notes are now more dark chocolate than milk, but the sound is as rich as ever, the range remains astonishingly wide, and the actress still has the power to move an audience profoundly. This recording also offers Streisand as free as she has ever been, singing melodies with an artful playfulness, adding a riff here and a gentle lick there. It is Streisand in a joyous mode.

Streisand also has the chance to strut her stuff as songwriter (both the little-heard "Ma Premiere Chanson" and the Grammy-winning "Evergreen"), pianist (she accompanies herself on the aforementioned "Chanson"), proud mother (the 58-piece orchestra, led by conductor William Ross, plays the lovely "Jason's Theme," composed by son Jason Gould) and social and political activist (thoughtful commentary about the state of the world, both global and national, pepper her intelligent patter).

Other highlights of the first half of Streisand's generous concert include a spirited "Down With Love"; a touching, beautifully sung rendition of her signature tune, "The Way We Were"; and several tunes from Funny Girl that climax with a thrilling version of that show's anthem, "People."

The second half of the recording is equally bountiful and includes perhaps the finest rendition one will hear of Maury Yeston's haunting "Unusual Way"; a gorgeous, full-voiced "Music of the Night"; a wonderful pairing of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carefully Taught" with Sondheim's "Children Will Listen"; heartfelt readings of "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" and "(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair?"; and a roof-raising version of "Somewhere" that brings the audience to a near frenzy. (The latter is performed with Il Divo, the strong-voiced vocal quartet that were Streisand's special guests.) The singer also offers three equally terrific encores: "My Shining Hour," the reprise of "Don't Rain on My Parade" and the charming "Smile."

"Streisand: Live in Concert 2006" is a magical recording from a woman whose powers as a spellbinding artist remain undimmed.