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Jussi Björling, tenor (1911-1960). ‘Rediscovered’ Carnegie Hall Recital. September 24th 1955
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

‘Adelaide’
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

‘Frühingsglaube’, D 686
‘Die Forelle’, D 550
‘Ständchen’, 0 957 (from Schwanengesang)
‘Die böse Farbe’, D 795 (from Die schöne Müllerin)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’, Op. 29 No. 11
‘Cäcilie’, Op. 27 No. 2
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

‘Ständchen’, Op. 106 No. 11
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Don Giovanni, ‘Il mio tesoro’
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Andrea Chénier, ‘Come un bel di di Maggio’
Fedora, ‘Amor ti vieta’
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Carmen, ‘La Fleur que tu m'avais jetée’ (Flower Song)
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Manon, ‘Instant charmant; En fermant les yeux’
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

‘En Svan’,(The Swan) Op. 25 No. 2.
‘En Drom’, (The Dream) Op. 48 No. 6
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

‘Demanten på marssnön (Diamond on the March Snow), Op. 36 No. 6
‘Säv, säv, susa’ ( Rushes, Whisper), Op. 36 No. 4
‘Svarta rosor’ (Black Roses), Op. 36 No.1
Carl Leopold SJÖBERG (1873-1935)

‘Toterna’
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria rusticana, ‘Addio alla madre’
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916)

‘Ideale’
‘L'Alba separà della luce ombra’
Giacomo PUCCIN1 (1858-1924)

Tosca, ‘E lucevan le stelle’
La Bohème, ‘Che gelida manina’
Stephen FOSTER (1826-1864)

‘Jeanie With the light Brown Hair’
Jussi Björling (tenor)
Frederick Schauwecker (piano)
Recorded live at The Carnegie Hall, New York. September 24th 1955
RCA RED SEAL 82876 53379 2 [79.36]

 

As the record companies re-cycle their back catalogues, at ever lower prices, and hence reduced profit, several have hit on the idea of issuing live performances of favourite or contracted artists. DG was early in the opera field with performances conducted by Karajan, and EMI likewise with Callas in public performances, some hitherto only available in poorly recorded versions from less than fully legitimate sources. RCA hit a winner with the widely acclaimed ‘Leontyne Price Rediscovered’ and now follow with this Björling issue.

Whilst claiming that this is the first time the complete concert has been available, the admirably informative accompanying booklet information, in English, German and French, and all words with English translation, is fully open about the fact that all but 9 tracks have been available previously on LP or CD. It is also true to say that all the items here can be found elsewhere in studio recordings by the singer. One of the most comprehensive issues is the recent EMI ‘The Very Best of Jussi Björling’, reviewed by me elsewhere on this site. That issue, like much of the singer’s discography, is with orchestral accompaniment, whilst this concert is with piano. Not having to ‘ride’ an orchestra does make a significant difference to the singer’s approach, particularly evident in the operatic pieces where his use of pianissimo and mezza voce, with concluding diminuendo, is sheer delight. The same can be said of his so soft conclusion to Puccini’s ‘Che gelida manina’ (tr. 26) which brings enthusiastic applause. The downside of live performance is the intrusion of applause, less so in a recital than a performance of an opera, and it is carefully abbreviated here. Recording characteristic can also be a problem. Here it is clear but recessed albeit with a slight boxiness to the sound.

As to the performance, the tenor is certainly in fine voice, his excellent diction, with control of legato and graceful phrasing, contributing to an outstanding all round performance to which the audience responds with ever increasing warmth. Particularly noteworthy in the first part of the concert is the fine characterization in the Schubert songs (trs. 3-6) sung with ease and a wide range of modulation and tone. These virtues are repeated in the Grieg and Sibelius (trs. 14-18). In the opera arias Björling’s singing is full of expression and passion particularly in ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (tr. 22). I personally found the piano inadequate to colour the textures in ‘Addio alla madre’ (tr. 20), but the accompaniment does allow Björling to finish Tosti’s ‘Ideale’ (tr. 23) with a soft falling diminuendo, if that is not a tautology, to die for. The only piece where I found the singer uncomfortable was in Mozart’s ‘Il mio tesoro’ (tr. 10) where his voice sounds too heavy and the lift into the head voice laboured. The singer introducing each piece himself is an added pleasure to the whole.

A very worthy issue that will give pleasure to those of the singers admirers who prefer the frisson of a live performance, applause and all, to studio versions. With the singer in such good voice, and generous with encores, all included, the recital must have been quite an occasion for those privileged to be present.

Robert J Farr

 

 



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