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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    


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Birgit Nilsson - Swedish Radio Concerts
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924) Tosca: Vissi d’arte; Turandot: In questa reggia;
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 – 1826) Oberon: Ozean, du Ungeheuer;
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827) Fidelio: Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin;
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Aida: O patria mia; La forza del destino: Pace, pace, mio Dio;
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883) Tannhäuser: Dich, teure Halle, grüss’ ich wieder;
Rolf LIEBERMANN (1910 – 1999) Penelope: Penelope’s aria;
Franz BERWALD (1796 – 1868) Estrella de Soria: Estrella’s aria
Birgit Nilsson (soprano), Swedish Radio Orchestra/Nils Grevillius (1, 4, 6), Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Nils Grevillius (2, 3, 5, 7), Royal Orchestra, Stockholm/Sixten Ehrling (8), Stockholm Radio Orchestra/Sten Frykberg (9)
rec. Circus, Stockholm, January 15, 1961 (1, 4, 6), Concert Hall, Stockholm, August 18-19, 1961 (2, 3, 5), March 5, 1959 (7), Royal Academy of Music, Stockholm, April 18, 1955 (8), April 13, 1947 (9)
BLUEBELL ABCD 055 [65:28]

 

 

Different listeners react differently to certain singers and instrumentalists. The arguably greatest sopranos during the second half of the last century, Callas and Nilsson, have each had their admirers and detractors. “Callas”, the latter stated, “sacrificed beauty for dramatic truth; Nilsson was technically perfect but lacked warmth”. There may be some truth in both these views but a majority of lovers of great operatic singing could overlook these deficiencies – if that’s what they are – and enjoy other qualities. In the case of Birgit Nilsson there’s the power, the steadiness, the ringing top notes. They are all present in abundance in these live recordings from her relative youth – and there is more than passing evidence that she possessed other qualities as well.

This compilation of Swedish Radio recordings from, mainly, the early 1960s, was originally issued in 1993. The recent departure of Birgit Nilsson has made it appropriate to assess it again. Sonically there is little to grumble about; it is in mono of course but Swedish Radio produced good recordings in those days and nobody need hesitate on that account. It can’t compete with studio efforts from the big companies from the same time but there is no lack of presence, the orchestras are well in the picture and Birgit Nilsson’s magnificent voice rings out undistorted and with all her power in full evidence. The conductor on most of the tracks is Nils Grevillius, who directed the Royal Opera for more than three decades and was adored by the orchestra. He is well-known to many collectors of opera arias, not least from his many recordings with Jussi Björling from the early 1930s to the late 1950s.

The repertoire is mainly standard fare that Birgit Nilsson often sang in concert. Several of the operas represented also belonged to her stage repertoire. The last two numbers are, however, rarities that are very good to have – especially with Nilsson singing.

“She lacked warmth?” Listen to the first track, Vissi d’arte from Tosca, one of her favourite roles, besides the Wagner and Strauss diet. There is certainly no lack of feeling. A light flutter in her otherwise rock-steady voice tells us that emotions are near the surface. Tosca is an actress a