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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Jussi BJÖRLING (tenor) 1911-1960: 25 original mono recordings 1930-1952
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1875)

La Belle Hélène, ‘Paris' entrance air’, Act 1 Sung in Swedish
Carl MILLOCKER (1842-1899)

Der Bettelstudent, ‘Simon - Laura duet’ (Act 2) ‘Simon's Air’ (Act 3) Sung in Swedish
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)

Der Zigeunbaron, ‘Barinkay - Saffi duet’, (Act 2): Sung in Swedish
Emmerich KALMAN (1882-1953)

Das Veilchen vom Montmartre, ‘Tango’ Sung in Swedish
Rudolf FRIML (1879-1972)

The Vagabond King, ‘Only a Rose’
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

‘Violer’ (Salut d’Amour, Op12) Sung in Swedish
SWEDISH TRADITIONAL

‘Ack Varmerland’
SCHRADER

‘Serenade’ Sung in Swedish
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

‘Morgen’
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)

‘Mattinata’
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916)

‘L’Alba Separa Dalla Luce L’Ombra’
‘Ideale’
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

‘In the Silence of Night’ and ‘Lilacs’
Stephen FOSTER (1826-1864)

‘Jeanie with the light brown hair’
Guy d’HARDELOT (1858-1926)

‘Because’
Oley SPEAKS (1874-1948)

‘Sylvia’ (Ivor Newton, pno)
CAMPBELL-TIPTON

‘A spirit flower’ (Ivor Newton, pno)
Eduardo Di CAPUA (1865-1917)

‘O sole mio’
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Turandot, ‘Nessun dorma’
Manon Lescaut, ‘Donna’ non vidi mai’
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Fedora, ‘Amor ti vieta’
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)

Jocelyn, ‘Berceuse’
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Les Pecheurs de perles, ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (with Robert Merrill, bar)
Various orchestras and conductors
ASV LIVING ERA CD AJA5472 [75.21]

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I reviewed, elsewhere on this site, a recent EMI issue entitled ‘The Very Best of Jussi Björling’ (bargain price double). This contained items recorded between 1936 and 1956. I outlined biographical details of the singer and his emergence as a leading ‘lyrico spinto’ tenor of his generation. I pointed out that Björling was a prodigious recording artist making over one hundred and fifty 78rpm records. It is from those 78s that this issue derives its material. There are several items common to this and the EMI issue. I must state straight away that the EMI issues is far superior in respect of the totality of the recorded sound. This issue has the sound set at a higher level than the EMI with the result that surface noise, largely absent from the rival, can be heard at the start and finish of some tracks and during quiet passages. This is particularly noticeable for anything with piano accompaniment (tr.18). I suspect that whilst EMI presumably had access to first generation recorded material, this issue has depended on shellac sources. This, I am afraid, means variable quality with distortion, drop-out and surface noise being present on some tracks. For example Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ (tr.21) the orchestral bass is woolly and just becomes a mush. Elsewhere the orchestral sound is boxy (tr.16) an effect that is mitigated on the EMI discs.

Of course a Björling issue is about singing not recording. Many of the tracks here date from the 1930s and were recorded in Stockholm prior to the singer’s international career taking off. His voice at that period was at its most honeyed and lyric with a characterful evenness of timbre and tone, often caught on the breath, and with the loveliest passagio. These characteristics of Björling’s singing, together with elegant phrasing and clear diction were never lost. In fact his voice grew in strength and depth when he took on heavier roles. Tracks 21-23 of operatic excerpts illustrate this well whilst the songs in English (tr.13-19 ) show some weakness in language but not in beauty of tone, diction and nuance. The disc concludes with the famous Bizet duet recorded in New York with Robert Merrill . This has been a long time favorite on UK record request radio broadcasts. This is the only track that is not derived from HMV (now part of EMI) sources. The sound compared with that on RCA’s ‘Jussi Björling, The Ultimate Collection’ is harsher, due I suspect to the high transfer level I have referred to, but without any discernible surface noise. RCA-Victor number DB 21426 is given as the source issue with a recording date of January 3rd 1951, whilst the RCA Björling issue referred to above gives November 30th 1950! Were these different takes? I can hear no discernible difference in the performance.

This issue will be of interest to those wanting the singer’s earlier recordings and who are enured to less than perfect re-mastering, or to put a more positive slant, preferring less doctoring of the sound.

Robert J Farr



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