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Jussi Björling (1911-1960) Complete opera and operetta Recordings. Sung in Swedish (1930-38). Collection: Volume 1
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Roméo et Juliette; Ah leve-toi soleil!
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Rigoletto; Questa o quella
Rigoletto; La donna e mobile
Il Trovatore; Di quella pira
Raoul LAPARRA (1876-1943)

L’illustre Fregona; Melancolique tombe le soir
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)

Prince Igor; Daylight is fading
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Tosca; Recondita armonia
Tosca; E lucevan le stelle
La fanciulla del West; Ch’ella mi creda libera
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)

Pagliacci; Recitar! Vesti la giubba
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria rusticana; O Lola
Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)

Fanal; I manner over lag och ratt
Victor HERBERT (1859-1924)

Naughty Marietta; Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life
Imre KÁLMÁN (1882-1953)

Das Veilchen von Montmartre; Du gar som en liten prinsessa; Heut’ Nacht hab’ ich getraumt von dir
Sigmund ROMBERG (1887-1951)

The Desert Song; My Desert is Waiting
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Das Land das Lachelns; Dein ist mein ganzes Herz; Von Apfelbluten einen Kranz
Paul ABRAHAM (1892-1960)

Die Blume von Hawaii; Du traumschöne Perle; Kann nicht küssen ohne liebe
Johann STRAUSS (1825-1899)

Der Zigeunerbaron; Wer uns getraumt
Carl MILLÖCKER (1842-1899)

Der Bettelstudent; Ich hab kein Geld; Soll ich redden…Ich setz den Fall
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)

La Belle Helene; Au mont Ida trois déesses
Jussi Björling (tenor) with
Hjördis Schymberg (soprano) in Strauss and Millöcker’s Soll ich redden
Nils Grevillius and his Orchestra except
Hanns Binngang and his Orchestra in Du gar som en liten prinsessa; My Desert is Waiting and
Jens Warny and his Orchestra in Heut’ Nacht hab’ ich getraumt von dir
NAXOS 8.110722 [70.59]


How many tenors have made their first recordings at nineteen? In fact how many male singers can claim to have impressed so thoroughly so young as Jussi Björling? Born in 1911, and a youthful member of his father’s Björling Male Quartet, he’d already had considerable experience of performance before entering the Stockholm Conservatory to study with the well-known baritone John Forsell. It was under Forsell’s guidance – he was also the Opera House manager – that Björling made his operatic debut as Don Ottavio; a recital at Tivoli the following year, in 1931, cemented his promise. The first recordings were made for Swedish HMV and – as with all the items on this disc – were sung in his native tongue. Forsell had encouraged Björling to sign the contract when the tenor was still only eighteen and as Harald Henrysson’s notes rightly maintain Björling was a remarkably mature artist at such a young age; in fact his voice was almost preternaturally formed, possessing great beauty of tone and richness, flexibility and range. Occasionally it sounds covered and there are, clearly, still some immaturities of phrasing and legato, quite understandably so in one who had barely trod the operatic stage. It’s true that in some of these canonical arias he lacks the elasticity and subtleties of line inflection that elevate a beautiful voice to an inspired artist, but these gifts were soon to come. It is, seen from the vantage point of over seventy years on, astounding that a nineteen year old could sing so magnificently.

A mixture of operatic arias and operetta: a few impressions should suffice. Questa o quella is beautifully sung but expressively it’s rather undernourished, with occasionally forced tone. The Laparra – a now forgotten zarzuela – is sung in agile, lyric fashion though occasionally the voice does sound covered and in Recondita armonia some inexperience does show. Atterberg’s I manner however is romantic and passionately interpreted and quite outstanding. His elegance in Kálmán’s Das Veilchen von Montmartre is treasurable and shows what an ardent and unforced lyricism he already possessed. True he can’t compete with Tauber or with Joseph Schmidt in Dein ist mein ganzes Herz – but who could? And maybe competing with the Hawaiian guitar in Abraham’s Die Blume von Hawaii is a forlorn cause, even if it’s a charming one. But the duets with Hjördis Schymberg in Strauss and Millöcker are very appealing and in the latter’s Ich hab kein Geld made in 1938 when Björling was twenty-seven we can hear how the voice has developed in the intervening eight years – maturity, increased flexibility, both of voice production and phrasing, an increased ease of execution, an instinct for stage lyricism in vocalism and an ever more resonantly beautiful tone.

No complaints about either packaging or transfer quality; those Swedish HMVs were of good quality. Here is Björling in all his youthful glory on the threshold of international fame.

Jonathan Woolf


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