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Jussi Björling - The Swedish Caruso
Opera and Oratorio Arias and Songs (1936 – 1941)
Opera Arias and Songs (1941 – 1950)
Opera and Operetta Arias and Songs in Swedish (1929 – 1941)
Lieder and Songs (1939 – 1959)
Three Classic Operas (1953 – 1959)
Jussi Björling (tenor) and various solo singers, choruses and orchestras
rec. 1927-1959
Full tracklisting at end of review
EMI CLASSICS ICON  2173132 [5 CDs: 73:25 + 74:53 + 76:42 + 75:34 + 73:53] 


Experience Classicsonline

The recorded legacy of Jussi Björling (1911-1960) has rarely been out of the catalogues. We are now approaching 2010 when it will have been fifty years since he passed away and 2011 when we celebrate his centenary. We can be sure that the catalogue will make room for even more Björling over the next couple of years. Naxos has been busy issuing a number of Björling discs. Nimbus quite recently issued a CD with arias and duets with Robert Merrill. The legendary Carnegie Hall concert was also recently re-issued with some extra items and there have been others as well. The present volume has the somewhat misleading title “The Swedish Caruso” – misleading since his art was so distinctive that it was in itself a norm and doesn’t need a soubriquet.

This box is in effect a slightly expanded version of a set that came on the market some ten years ago, simply entitled “Jussi Björling Edition”. The first two titles on CD 3 are new: never before issued songs, recorded with piano in September 1929, when Björling was still a teenager; he was to turn nineteen almost exactly five months later. It is, from an historical point of view, valuable and interesting to have these sides which show a still immature but certainly promising singer; his voice instantly recognizable. To be sure he needed another few years before he was ready to conquer the world – which he did with the four sides he recorded in early December 1936 (CD 1 tr. 1-4). Those were his first opera records sung in the original language. They became his calling card and eventually brought him to the Metropolitan Opera. Long before that he had recorded most of the standard arias in Swedish (CD 3) and it is fascinating to hear the freshness and the healthy tone, that still needed some nurturing before he reached his peak. One could perhaps say that those were his prentice years - without them he may not have become the undoubted master.

There is not much point in going through this set track by track and comment on this and that. Much of the material is so well known that I don’t think readers, who for some reason have failed to acquire earlier issues, need much encouragement to grab the opportunity now. However there are a few things worth pointing out.

On the first two discs there isn’t a single track I would like to be without. His lyrical Cielo e mar, his vital O sole mio and the French arias have rarely been bettered; his phenomenal Cujus animam and a deeply felt Ingemisco are even better. There are also alternative takes of the two Trovatore arias that were not issued until the previous box in the 1990s. The duets with Hjördis Schymberg from Rigoletto and La bohème are also relative rarities. They are mementos of the singer with whom Björling appeared more than any other during his frequent appearances in Stockholm. There are also a couple of duets with his wife Anna-Lisa, showing that she could have had quite a successful career on her own.

On CD 3 the aria from Laparra’s L’illustre Fregona is a rarity – Björling appeared in the opera in Stockholm. He also sang Martin Skarp in Atterberg’s Fanal at the world premiere. The operetta excerpts are also something to revel in. In 1938 Björling’s voice was certainly in wonderful shape and the two duets with Schymberg are marvellous, but it is the arias from La belle Hélène and Der Bettelstudent that should be in every collection. Björling’s ardently gleaming top notes are wonders of assured vocalism. They shared an EP, which I bought in the early 1960s, with two arias from The Land of Smiles, recorded in 1932; the difference was telling. During the intervening years he had developed from a good lyric tenor to a world star. Most of the Swedish songs on this disc he re-recorded in the late 1950s to even greater effect.

His recording of Beethoven’s Adelaide has long been regarded as among the best ever and the two Strauss songs are also very good. His very best efforts as a Lieder singer are otherwise to be found on an RCA recital “Jussi Björling in Song”, recorded in 1952. It was issued some years ago on Naxos and is a splendid complement to the material here. Somewhat to my surprise I found the last five titles on CD 4, which were issued by RCA, together with a few more, on EP - obviously they were produced by Swedish Prophone Records. Söderman’s Kung Heimer och Aslög has been a favourite on request programmes on Swedish Radio for many years.

The fifth CD is new, or rather a new compilation added to the former material. It is made up of excerpts from three famous complete opera recordings, featuring Jussi Björling and Victoria de los Angeles. Björling was no tenore robusto, like Mario del Monaco for instance, but his clean-cut lirico spinto projected the drama of Pagliacci through the bright intensity just as well as the Italian’s sheer volume. Few tenors have surpassed him in this role – at least on record. Rodolfo was perhaps Björling’s best role, anyway it was the role he performed most often. This recording with Sir Thomas Beecham has always been a top contender. It can’t compete with the Karajan on Decca when it comes to sound quality. That set as a whole is tremendously good in all other respects as well, but especially the second half of Act III is deeply moving in the Björling-los Angeles version. Madama Butterfly, recorded in September and October 1959 in Rome was Björling’s last complete opera. By then he was a sick man, having suffered several heart attacks. When the set was issued a year later Björling was already dead. He was still singing well for the Rome sessions but some of the glow is gone. Still it is good to have these two admirable singers together in the long love duet.

Technically the transfers are impeccable, EMI having been able to work from original matrices and tapes. The five discs are in separate cardboard envelopes and the booklet has a perceptive essay by John Steane. The majority of these recordings are classics in the same division as those by Caruso, Schipa and Gigli. None of those three could be mistaken for each other, nor can Björling. He was at least as distinctively personal as any of them – or any other tenor for that matter. Golden stuff, all of it!

Göran Forsling

Full Tracklisting

Jussi Björling - The Swedish Caruso

CD 1
Opera and Oratorio Arias and Songs (1936 – 1941)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
1. Se quell guerrier … Celeste Aida [4:21]
2. La donna è mobile [2:08]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
La bohème:
3. Che gelida manina [4:14]
4. Recondita armonia [2:45]
5. E lucevan le stele [2:49]
La fanciulla del West:
6. Ch’ella mi creda [2:21]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834 – 1886)
La Gioconda:
7. Cielo e mar!
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 – 1864)
8. Mi batti il cor … O paradiso [3:10]
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846 – 1916)
9. Ideale [3:19]
Eduardo di CAPUA (1865 – 1917)
10. O sole mio [3:12]
Rudolf FRIML (1879 – 1972)
The Vagabond King:
11. Only a Rose [2:48]
Henry Ernest GEEHL (1881 – 1961)
12. For You Alone [1:59]
Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
13. Instant charmant … En ferment les yeux [3:40]
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
14. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée [3:48]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
15. Salut! demeure chaste et pure [4:35]
Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812 – 1883)
16. M’appari tutt’amor [3:20]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868)
Stabat Mater:
17. Cujus animam [4:09]
Giuseppe VERDI
Messa da Requiem:
18. Ingemisco [4:02]
Il trovatore:
19. Ah si, ben mio [3:04]
20. Di quella pira [1:35]
21. Ah si, ben mio [3:14]
22. Di quella pira [1:35]
23. Questa o quella [2:05]
Orchestras / Nils Grevillius
rec. December 1936 (1-4); September 1937 (5-12); August 1938 (13, 14); October 1938 (17-20); July 1939 (15, 16, 21, 22); June 1941 (23)

CD 2
Opera Arias and Songs (1941 – 1950)
La bohème:
1. O soave fanciulla [4:06]
Giuseppe VERDI
2. È il sol dell’anima [3:19]
(1 & 2 w. Hjördis Schymberg, soprano)
3. Questa o quella [2:09]
Un ballo in maschera:
4. Di tu se fedele [3:12]
5. Nessun dorma [3:22]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)
Andrea Chenier:
6. Come un bel di di maggio [3:13]
7. Amor ti vieta [2:00]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945)
Cavalleria rusticana:
8. Mamma! quell vino è generoso [3:49]
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919)
9. Recitar! … Vesti la giubba [3:39]
10. Mattinata [2:16]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
L’elisir d’amore:
11. Una furtiva lagrima [4:08]
Georges BIZET
Les Pêcheurs de perles:
12. Je crois entendre encore [3:35]
Charles GOUNOD
Roméo et Juliette:
13. Ah! lève-toi, soleil! [3:21]
14. Je suis seul! … Ah! fuyez, douce image [4:31]
Francesco CILEA (1866 – 1950)
15. È la solita storia [3:52]
Cavalleria rusticana:
16. O Lola [2:33]
Manon Lescaut:
17. Donna non vidi mai [2:23]
18. Recondita armonia [2:51]
19. E lucevan le stelle [3:09]
La bohème:
20. O soave fanciulla [3:37]
Charles GOUNOD
Roméo et Juliette:
21. Ange adorable [4:24]
(20 & 21 w. Anna-Lisa Björling, soprano)
Benjamin GODARD (1849 – 1895)
22. Concealed in this retreat [2:53]
Francesco Paolo TOSTI
23. L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra [2:22]
Orchestras / Nils Grevillius
rec. June 1941 (1, 2); March 1944 (3-10); September 1945 (11-14); November 1947 (15); September 1948 (16, 17); August 1949 (20-23); September 1950 (18, 19)

CD 3
Opera and Operetta Arias and Songs in Swedish (1929 – 1941)
Henry Ernest GEEHL
1. För dig allén [2:13]
2. Mattinata [2:12]
Charles GOUNOD
Roméo et Juliette:
3. Höj dig, du klara sol [3:12]
Giuseppe VERDI
4. O, I kvinnor [1:51]
Raoul LAPARRA (1876 – 1943)
L’illustre Frégona:
5. Fylld av vemod sänker sig natten [3:20]
Alexander BORODIN (1933 – 1887)
Prince Igor:
6. Dagen gick långsamt till ro [3:12]
7. Det sköna står att finna [2:41]
8. Jag minns stjärnorna lysa [2:34]
Giuseppe VERDI
9. Ack, som ett fjun så lätt [2:06]
Il trovatore:
10. Skyhögt mot himlen [1:37]
11. Spela komedi! … Pudra ditt anlet [2:47]
Cavalleria rusticana:
12. O Lola [2:24]
La fanciulla del West:
13. Låt henne tro [2:29]
Kurt ATTERBERG (1887 – 1974)
14. I männer över lag och rätt [3:01]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 – 1908)
15. I söderns hav [3:09]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1875)
La Belle Hélène:
16. Uti en skog på berget Ida [3:23]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 – 1899)
Der Zigeunerbaron:
17. Vem oss har vigt? [3:08]
Karl MILLÖCKER (1842 – 1899)
Der Bettelstudent:
18. Skall jag tala … Antag det fall [3:16]
(17 & 18 w. Hjördis Schymberg, soprano)
19. Nu är jag pank och fågelfri [1:40]
Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867 – 1942)
20. När jag för mig själv i mörka skogen går [2:12]
21. Bland skogens höga furustammar [2:44]
Swedish Folk Songs
22. Ack, Värmeland, du sköna [3:14]
23. Allt under himmelens fäste [3:11]
Carl SJÖBERG (1861 – 1900)
24. Tonerna [3:13]
Mogens SCHRADER (1894 – 1934)
25. Sommarnatt [3:11]
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871 – 1927)
26. Sverige [2:48]
Ragnar ALTHÉN (1883 – 1961)
27. Land, du välsignade [2:35]
Eric WIDE (Ragnar WIDESTEDT) (1887 – 1954)
28. Nämner du Sverige [3:08]
Orchestras / Nils Grevillius, except tracks 1 & 2: Hjalmar Meissner (piano)
rec. September 1929 (1, 2); September 1930 (3, 4, 20, 21); March 1933 (5, 6); November 1933 (7, 8); December 1933 (9, 11); March 1934 (10, 12); March 1935 (13, 14); October 1936 (15, 22-25); January 1937 (26, 27); April 1938 (17); May 1938 (16, 18, 19, 28)

CD 4
Lieder and Songs (1939 – 1959)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
1. Adelaide [6:50]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
2. Morgen! [3:21]
3. Cäcilie [1:57]
Gustaf NORDQVIST (1886 – 1949)
4. Bön i ofredstid [2:44]
5. Bisp Thomas frihetssång [2:06]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
6. In the Silence of the Night [2:57]
7. Lilacs [2:12]
Stephen FOSTER (1826 – 1864)
8. Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair [3:14]
Guy d’HARDELOT (1858 – 1936)
9. Because [2:06]
Oley SPEAKS (1874 – 1948)
10. Sylvia [3:03]
Louis CAMPBELL-TIPTON (1877 – 1921)
11. A Spirit Flower [3:40]
Amy Marcy Cheney BEACH (1867 – 1944)
12. Ah, Love, But a Day [3:17]
13. I Bless Ev’ry Hour [3:07]
14. Till havs [2:14]
Sven SALÉN (1890 – 1969)
15. Sången till havet [2:36]
16. Visa kring slånblom och månskära [2:48]
17. Jungfrun under lind [2:45]
August SÖDERMAN (1832 – 1876)
18. Kung Heimer och Aslög [7:16]
19. Trollsjön [4:43]
Hugo ALFVÉN (1872 – 1960)
20. Så tag mit hjerte [3:52]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957)
21. Demanten på marssnön [3:31]
Adolph ADAM (1803 – 1856)
22. Julsång (O Holy Night)
1-3: Harry Ebert (piano); 10-13: Ivor Newton (piano); the rest with orchestras conducted by Sune Waldimir (4 & 5); Nils Grevillius (6-9; 18-22) and Bertil Bokstedt (14-17)
rec. July 1939 (1-3); April 1944 (4, 5); November 1947 (6, 7); September 1948 (8, 9); November 1952 (10-13); September 1953 (14-17); January 1957 (18); February 1959 (19-22)

CD 5
Three Classic Operas (1953 – 1959)
1. Mi accordan di parlar? … Un grande spettacolo …
Un tal gioco [5:15]
2. Recitar! … Vesti la giubba [3:55]
3. A stanotte … Coraggio! … No, Pagliaccio non son [8:15]
Jussi Björling (Canio); Victoria de los Angeles (Nedda); Leonard Warren (Tonio); Paul Franke (Beppe); Robert Merrill (Silvio); Robert Shaw Chorale, RCA Victor Orchestra/Renato Cellini
La bohème

4. Non sono in vena … Che gelida manina [9:35]
5. Ehi! Rodolfo … O soave fanciulla [4:59]
6. Marcello, finalmente … Donde lieta usci … Dunque è proprio finita  [15:06]
7. In un coupe? … O Mimi, tu più non torni [4:28]
Jussi Björling (Rodolfo); Victoria de los Angeles (Mimi), Lucine Amara (Musetta); Robert Merrill (Marcello); John Reardon (Schaunard); Giorgio Tozzi (Colline); RCA Victor Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Madama Butterfly
8. Dovunque al mondo … Amore o grillo [7:16]
9. Viene la sera … Bimba dagli occhi  [14:57]
Victoria de los Angeles (Madama Butterfly); Jussi Björling (Pinkerton); Miriam Pirazzini (Suzuki); Mario Sereni (Sharpless); Piero de Palma (Goro); Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma/Gabriele Santini
rec. 1953, 1956 and 1959


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