expected the death of Birgit Nilsson in December 2005 unleashed
a stream of recording s excavated from the archives. In
many cases this has been a good thing. After all Ms Nilsson’s
singing is often comparable to the eighth wonder of the
world. However not all is gold and much of the content
of the present disc is definitely of slighter metallic
material comes from three different sources. The first
14 tracks are from an LP, recorded in 1977 at St. Jacob’s
Church-visitors to Stockholm may know the red building
just across the street from the Royal Opera House. The
LP is transferred in its entirety. The next four are from
an EP recorded in 1963 at the Gustav Vasa Church at Odenplan
in central Stockholm. The last track, recorded in 1975,
was Birgit Nilsson’s contribution to an LP entitled Hovsångare
sjunger Bernadottesånger (Court Singers sing songs
by the Royal Bernadotte family).
1977-the date of the LP-Birgit Nilsson was already 59 and
time had mercilessly caught up with the once spotless voice.
Famous in her heyday for her steadiness, almost straight
tone and near-perfect intonation she here sounds sorely
strained, vibrato-laden, scooping up to notes. Her pianissimos
are frail and shaky. In some songs, notably Albert Runbäck’s Frid (Peace)
her intonation is so approximate that it is hard to judge
what notes she is aiming at.
admiration for Birgit Nilsson’s singing is second to none,
as I have frequently pointed out on this site, but this
disc gave me very little pleasure and large portions of
it are merely painful. My wife, listening in the adjacent
room, asked after a short while: “Is it Mrs. Miller?” Of
course the underlying intentions are of the best
and listening carefully one can at once hear that La Nilsson
knows exactly what she wants; it is the voice that fails.
The readings are carefully thought through with much sensitive
phrasing. Occasionally she shows her mettle and her famous
laser-beam tone shines through the peal of the organ as
in bygone days, but to my mind at least these tracks should
have remained in the archives of Swedish Society.
there no extenuating circumstances? Anders Bondeman is
an excellent organist. Åke Olofsson plays a very beautiful
cello solo in Panis angelicus and the St. Jacob’s
Youth Choir, appearing in a few songs, are clear-voiced
and sweet-sounding with angelic high sopranos. The best
track, among the fourteen, is Stille Nacht, with
the choir in the background and Birgit Nilsson, scaling
down her voice properly and being comparatively steady.
four titles from 1963 show her in much better shape, sounding
more like the “real” Birgit, but even here there is an
uncharacteristic vibrato creeping in and also some scooping.
All four of the songs were also recorded in 1977, although
in 1963 she sang Adam and Gruber in Swedish. The
larger and more reverberant acoustics of the Gustav Vasa
Church make her sing them slower than at St. Jacob, which
means that Silent Night becomes so drawn out that
it should be renamed Eternal Night. Anyway she sings
it with a good deal of warmth, and O Holy Night,
the real showpiece among Christmas Songs, is the only track
on the whole disc against which I placed exclamation marks
in my notes.
remaining item, Rosens doft (The fragrance of the
rose) is quite a nice song. Birgit Nilsson’s singing is
much more confident and nuanced than two years later, but
the piano part is four-square and not even the excellent
Arnold Östman can do much about that. Prince Gustaf, who
died young, was second son of King Oscar I. He also composed
a couple of songs for male quartet and these are still
in all this is a disappointing issue. For the best of Birgit
Nilsson one has to look elsewhere. Why not the Bluebell
disc with recordings from Swedish Radio’s archives (see review)?
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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