If ever there was a voice that matched up to the Everests
of the repertoire, it was Birgit Nilsson’s. All of the operatic excerpts
here come from the heftier end of the operatic spectrum (more of the
Included amongst these gems is the climax of one of
the finest operatic recordings ever made – Karl Böhm’s 1966 Bayreuth
Tristan. Shorn of the preceding hours of music, it nevertheless
retains its ability to move in no uncertain measure. While one listens
awe-struck at Nilsson’s power at the end of one of the most straining
parts in the soprano repertoire, the activities of the Bayreuth Festival
Orchestra are almost as impressive: the thunderous, climactic brass
surely sent shock waves into the Bayreuth environs.
Ever suited to the larger roles, Nilsson’s 1963 account
of Abscheulicher! reveals her in her element. The resolution
she feels is almost palpable, the ideal contrast to the prayer-like,
lulling parts of the Weber.
Of course the practice of excerpting is particularly
cruel to Wagner (it is a particular shame that Der Männer Sippe
is curtailed after a gripping account: listen especially to the resplendent
trumpet from the Covent Garden Orchestra). Verdi can seem a little more
amenable in this respect: Pace, pace o Dio from Forza del
destino is characterised by Nilsson’s innate sense of the dramatic,
aided by the Covent Garden inspired by Argeo Quadri. In such hands,
the aria from Nabucco is positively ennobled by this treatment.
The final three tracks show a different side of this
singer. Adam’s O Holy Night does indeed sound strange straight
after the exultant Du bist der Lenz, and at least she scales
it down for Panis angelicus. But it should not be for these that
one purchases this disc. It should be for a memento of a great singer
in the repertoire that suited her best.
Decca’s ‘The Singers’ series are all enhanced CDs.
This means that there are no texts and translations supplied. For these
one has to insert the disc into one’s computer (assuming there is one
handy) where there are internet links, a (label-specific) discography
and a photo gallery (22 photos, in the present case). And the texts,
of course. It’s very impressive, but there is something to be
said for having the texts in one’s hands …