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Jussi Björling Lieder and Songs (1939-1952)
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)

01. Morgen, Op. 27, No. 4 [03:17]
02. Cäcilie, Op. 27, No. 2 [01:56]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)

03. Adelaide, Op. 46 [06:46]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)

04. An Sylvia, D. 891 [04:22]
05. Schwanengesang, D. 957: Standchen [04:09]
06. An die Leier, D. 737 [04:07]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 - 1957)

07. Svarta rosar (Black Roses), Op. 36, No.1 [02:09]
08. Sav, sav, susa (Sigh, Rushes, Sigh), Op. 36, No. 4 [02:15]
Edvard GRIEG (1843 - 1907)

09. En svane (A Swan), Op. 25, No. 2 [02:33]
10. En drom (A Dream), Op. 48, No. 6 [02:02]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)

11. Die Mainacht, Op. 43, No. 2 [04:13]
Richard STRAUSS

12. Ständchen, Op. 17, No. 2 [02:18]
13. Morgen, Op. 27, No. 4 [03:41]
Carl SJOBERG (1861 - 1900)

14. Tonerna (Visions) [03:17]
Franz SCHUBERT

15. Die Allmacht, D. 852 [05:41]
16. Wandrers Nachtlied, D. 768 [02:44]
Jean SIBELIUS

17. Svarta rosar (Black Roses), Op. 36, No. 1 [02:15]
Franz LISZT (1811 - 1886)

18. Es muss ein Wunderbares sein, S. 314 [02:28]
Hugo WOLF (1860 - 1903)

19. Verborgenheit (Secrecy) [03:24]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)

20. Lilacs, Op. 21, No. 5 [01:59]
Francesco PAOLO TOSTI (1846 - 1916)

21. Ideale [03:16]
Franz SCHUBERT

22. Schwanengesang, D. 957: Ständchen [04:29]
23. Die Schone Mullerin, D. 795: Die bose Farbe [02:23]
24. Die Forelle, D. 550 [01:51
Jussi Björling (tenor), Harry Ebert (piano - 1-8), Frederick Schauwecker (piano - 9-24)
Recorded July 15, 1939 (1-3), January 30, 1940 (4-7), March 1, 1940 (8), April 11, 1952 (9-24) Stefan Lindstrom, Restoration Engineer
NAXOS 8.110789 [77:32]

 

Here we have the majority of Björling's studio recordings of Lieder, collected on one well-filled CD. There were a couple of Swedish songs recorded in 1940, but otherwise this covers his output in the field. To most listeners Björling's name is synonymous with opera but, as Harald Henrysson mentions in his as usual very well-written and illuminating booklet text, from his American debut in 1937 until his death in 1960 he gave about 900 concerts compared to around half that amount of opera performances. His repertoire was not very large but it encompassed several important song composers and he often sang Richard Strauss, Schubert, the Nordic giants Grieg and Sibelius and some Swedish composers, represented here by Carl Sjöberg, whose Tonerna was a favourite and often sung as an encore. Some of the songs he recorded more than once - there are also live recordings of many of them. It is interesting to compare Morgen on this disc, first recorded in 1939 when he was still in his twenties, and then a version from 1952 when he was at the height of his powers. The early version is much more inward and he sings delicious pianissimos in long, unbroken phrases. The 1952 version is more authoritative and also much more full-throated. It is a more mature artist, but one who has lost a little of the joy of discovery. He can still sing a wonderful piano, but he doesn't caress the phrases as he did back in 1939. On the other hand he makes a real show-piece out of Cäcilie in 1939: this is the young star tenor with glowingly powerful and yet elegant high notes. The ideal balance he finds in Beethoven's Adelaide, from the same session and this is a much-admired version, maybe the most perfect ever committed to disc as pure singing. The only comparable recording I know is Fritz Wunderlich's. Just listen to the end of the song. It is alone worth the price of the disc.

In Schubert's Ständchen there is very little to choose between the two versions, recorded 12 years apart, but it is remarkable how well he has preserved the youthfulness of the voice in the later recording. Sibelius's Black roses also invites comparison, the 1952 version more restrained. Both this and the companion song from the 1940 sessions, Säv, säv, susa, belonged to Björling's favourites; he sang them both at his very last concert on August 5, 1960 in Gothenburg, just weeks before his untimely death. This concert was recorded by Swedish Radio and later released on LP by RCA.

Most of the present disc is occupied by the 16 songs he recorded in New York on April 4, 1952 which were released on LP as "Jussi Björling in Song". I have owned the original LP for more than 40 years and played it innumerable times. What perplexed me at first when playing the CD was that the order of the songs was different from the LP, but a check with Harald Henrysson, curator of the Jussi Björling Museum and the annotator of this release, quickly revealed that the CD presents the songs in the order they were recorded. It is indeed stunning to listen through the session and hear the same freshness of voice, the same smooth pianissimos and the same shine to the top notes from beginning to end. No tiring at all through what must have been a very long session. Having played the LP maybe not regularly in later years but often enough there were no revelations hearing it in the new format, but a few random notes from my note-pad, besides what I have already said in this review, may be of interest:-

Listen to Tonerna, how he floats his tone in a ravishing pianissimo. This is to my mind his finest recording of the song, which he recorded again in 1957 with orchestra. Sjöberg was an amateur composer, working as a doctor in the little town of Hedemora just 40 kilometers south of Björling's birth place and also the town from where another important Swedish singer came, the mezzo-soprano Kerstin Thorborg.

I think it is true to say that Björling always felt most at home when he sang in his native Swedish, there is a deeper identification in the Sjöberg and Sibelius songs and also in the two Grieg songs, Norwegian being very close to Swedish. He was always careful with words but when singing in German or any other language, except possibly Italian, there is an ever so slight feeling of the thinnest of veils between the singer and the microphone. But that apart, listen to Wanderers Nachtlied and there is the most lovely pianissimo, while Die böse Farbe is full-throated, impressively so, but maybe not quite in tune with the mood of the song. The very last song, Die Forelle, is elegant and flexible, maybe mirroring Björling's interest in fishing. Listen also to Tosti's Ideale. This was the final song on the original LP and the last note, again so ravishing, was always what lingered in my memory long after I had put the record back on its shelf.

The accompaniments are not more than ordinary and Jussi Björling may not have been an ideal Lieder singer in the sense that Fischer-Dieskau, Schwarzkopf or Peter Schreier were/are with their inflexions of the texts, but as pure singing of wonderful songs this is still hard to beat. Stefan Lindström's restorations are made with care and respect for the original sound; there is some background noise to allow Jussi's voice to sound as natural as possible, but never obtrusive in any way. Strongly recommended to all of you who, like me, have worn out the LP, to all of you who still regard Jussi as an opera tenor only and to anyone who likes wonderful singing.

Göran Forsling



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