I have it in my hand, the gorgeous deluxe edition of Barbra Streisand’s “What Matters Most” album. This is her self-produced tribute to her old friends, the great lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. If the Bergmans didn’t quite “invent” Barbra, in the manner of John Kander and Fred Ebb, a la Liza Minnelli, they are responsible for so many of Streisand’s signature tunes—including the score for “Yentl”—that they have become vital to Barbra’s enduring legend. The Bergmans know her voice, her personality, her heart. (As for Liza, I think out of her fondness for Kander and Ebb, she has somewhat exaggerated their impact—after all, she was singing!)
“What Matters Most” is a two-disc set. The first disc is ten Bergman songs never recorded by Barbra, the second disc contains ten more familiar tunes—“The Way We Were,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”
But it is on the first disc that Barbra truly soars. Listen, it’s worth the price just to hear Barbra a’capella on the first bars of “The Windmills of Your Mind.” Barbra has retained the exquisite upper register of her voice, but the tones have deepened—beautifully. Age has not withered her gift and life experience has given it much more resonance.
In a world of phony, over-hyped “talent,” I’m glad a true artist like Barbra is still here, working and reminding us that “perfectionist” is not a dirty word.