known that Björling recorded dance band songs, not least because
he himself wrote of the pseudonymous subterfuge in his autobiography,
but before now I’d only heard one of them. Here, in volume
six of Naxos’s handsome series devoted to the tenor, is the
evidence of those “Erik Odde” sides made between 1931 and 1935.
Björling fans will now be in a quandary because, whilst cheap,
accessible and eminently collectable, this disc stands at a
complete tangent to the Björling of the operatic stage – though
some of the popular songs in Swedish do show him in more accustomed
being the case extensive commentary of these dance tunes – many
from the latest films – isn’t really desirable but a few general
comments may be in order. Björling, though described at the
time as a jazz singer, was actually providing what they called
on the record labels “vocal refrain”. Harald Henrysson’s notes
are right to make allusions to other popular singers of the
time though he’s in error in thinking “Whispering” Jack Smith
was English – he was American. To adherents of British Dance
Bands of the time and their battery of singers – Al Bowlly,
Sam Browne, Sam Costa and the like – Björling will sound curiously
uninteresting and uninvolving.
arrangements played by the bands veer more toward the show
band than the dance band as well, and there are some questionable
lapses in taste such as the heroically misconceived opening
violin cadenza in the Borganoff song. The pervasive sound of
the vibraharp ends many of the songs in spongy sentiment and
the string heavy, two beat rhythm of these bands tends to sink
things deep in inflexibility. There is cod-Baghdad in the Lindberg
song – many of these composers are, like Björling, themselves
labouring under pseudonyms and all are duly noted in the very
fine documentation that comes with the disc. Lindberg actually was Lindberg
but Bert Carsten for example was Bert Carsten Nordlander and
Guy Ammandt was in reality Gunnar Ahlberg.
a couple of decent trumpeters and an interesting alto player;
there’s a folksy accordion in the Lasso-Valerio in which the
arrangement seems to be paying (unsuccessful) homage to Georges
Boulanger. Björling is warm and affectionate though hardly
idiomatic; the registers in the Le Beau song don’t sound right
however. He essays The Sunshine of Your Smile – this
and everything is in Swedish of course – but convinces much
more in the Swedish popular songs. Here his voice deepens,
the chest swells, and the legato unfolds with magnetic allure.
He reserves great heft for the Nyblom, is supply marvellous
in the Ammandt, and sings the Enders with real beauty – it’s
also rather a beautiful song.
So here we have the great
tenor in unaccustomed mode. Well transferred and especially
well documented acquisition will depend on how much of a Björling
completist you really are.