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Björling Collection Volume 4: Opera Arias and Duets - 1945-1951
Georges Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Romeo et Juliette, ‘Ah! Leve-toi, soleil’
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Manon, ‘Je suis seul!…Ah! fuyez, douce image
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1868)

L’Elisir d’amore, ‘Una furtiva lagrima’…’Quanto e bella’
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)

L’arlesiana, ‘E la solita storia’ ‘Come due tizzi accesi’
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Manon Lescaut, ‘Donna’ non vidi mai’
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria rusticana, ‘Ch’ella mi creda libera’; ‘Mamma! Quell vino e generoso’
Benjamin GODARD (1949-1895)

Jocelyn, ‘Berceuse’
Georges BIZET (1838-1870)

Carmen, ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Don Carlo, ‘Io I’ho perduta…Qual pallor…Dio, che nell’alma infondere’ (with Robert Merrill, baritone)
Otello, ‘O monstruoso colpa…Si, pel ciel marmoreo giuro’ (with Robert Merrill, baritone)
La forza del destino, ‘Solenne in quest’ora’ (with Robert Merrill, baritone)
Aida, ‘Se quell guerrier io fossi!…Celeste Aida’
Georges BIZET (1838-1870)

Les Pecheurs de perles, ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (with Robert Merrill, baritone)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La Boheme, ‘In un coupe?..O Mimi, tu piu non torni’ (with Robert Merrill, baritone); ‘Che gelida manina’
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda, ‘Cielo e mar!’
Jussi Björling (tenor)
Royal Opera Orchestra, Stockholm Concert Association Orchestra and Swedish Radio Orchestra/Nils Grevillius. RCA Victor Orchestra/Renato Cellini
Various recording venues
Restoration Producer Stefan Lindström
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110788 [73.37]



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Jussi Björling (1911-1960) made his debut as a tenor in 1930 at the age of 19. He is reputed to have recorded over 150 78 rpm discs, many with orchestra conducted, as here, by Nils Grevillius. Björling’s complete opera and operetta repertoire comprised 55 roles, most abandoned on his road to world fame. His total opera repertoire in the theatre after World War 2 was a mere twelve roles. Although he made commercial studio recordings of several of these for LP issue, regrettably these did not include his Faust, or either Verdi’s eponymous Don Carlo or Gustavus in Un Ballo in Maschera. Having opened the Met season in 1940 as Gustavus he went home to Sweden for the duration of the war, only returning to the USA in the autumn of 1945 after the conclusion of hostilities. During this period and his frequent holidays home he made regular visits to the studio. Tracks 1-9 conducted by Grevillius were among the resultant 78s. The restoration engineer suggests that if the listener wants to recreate the sound of the original 78s they should turn down the treble adjustment on their equipment to minimum! For my ears the restoration of these first seven tracks, recorded between 1945 and 1949, give an unusually harsh patina to Björling’s voice. This is not evident on the Carmen La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (tr. 8) or the Mascagni Mamma! Quell vino e generoso recorded in 1950 or any of the later tracks. This stridency, and that is not too harsh a word, spoils that lovely ethereal beauty of tone that was the hallmark of Björling’s singing in this period as I remember it from those 78s. The 1950 recording of The Flower Song allows the listener to appreciate the full range of colour and the emotion Björling could bring to his singing.

Emotion, involvement, elegance are the adjectives that spring to mind in the second part of this CD in respect of Björling’s singing in both the solo items and the duets with Robert Merrill that constitute the second part of this CD. The duets start with Io I’ho perduta from Don Carlo (tr. 10) and include the ever popular, and never bettered rendition of Au fond du temple saint from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers (tr. 14). All these duet recordings have had wide circulation on CD and have a deserved reputation in the recorded pantheon. The recordings here are sonically indistinguishable from those on the double RCA issue ‘Jussi Björling - The Ultimate Collection’ presumably derived from the master tapes. I have to note that there is a disparity of recorded dates between this Naxos CD and the RCA in respect of these duets. What is known is that the sessions took place on November 30th 1950 and January 3rd 1951. They may of course have been alternative takes but I have no history of the sessions. Popularity apart, the most consummate performance among the duets is that of In un coupe?.O Mimi, tu piu non torni from La Boheme, a favourite of Björling’s and one he sang with Merrill often at the Met (tr. 12). Björling’s rendition of Rodolfo’s Che gelida manina (tr. 15) is particularly fine as is his Cielo e mar! (tr. 17) both recorded later in January 1951. Fine legato, excellent diction, elegant phrasing and that glowing golden tone that was Jussi Björling’s hallmark distinguish both arias.

The last three solo items and the duets are thoroughly enjoyable and recommendable in terms of sound and performance. I am less comfortable in recommending the sonic quality of the earlier tracks. The Naxos booklet has an informative biographical essay on Björling’s life and career.

Robert J Farr



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