couple of months ago I contributed an omnibus review of five
discs from Bluebell’s “Great Swedish Singers” series. These
were issued some years back but are still in the catalogue.
During the next few weeks I am going to review some more recent
issues from the same series. I start with Ingvar Wixell who,
from the mid-1960s and three decades onwards, was one of the
foremost lyric-dramatic baritones on the international circuit.
His was a bright, easily produced voice with almost tenoral
height and a characteristic quick vibrato that with advanced
age became more pronounced and was sometimes described as ‘gritty’.
He started as a lyrical baritone, making his debut as Papageno.
Three excerpts from his assumption of role are presented on
this disc. In common with most of the contents of this disc
the recordings derive from the archives of Swedish Radio. Born
on 7 May 1931 he was not yet twenty-five when the recording
was made. Even so his was already a fully developed voice, supple
and expressive and produced with such lightness and beauty that
he soon became a favourite far beyond the opera-going public.
In 1959 he recorded an LP, Fridas visor, with songs by
Birger Sjöberg, a Swedish poet, novelist and singer who wrote
a great number of songs about middle-class life in a small town.
The record was a best-seller and track 4 on this disc is reproduced
here courtesy EMI Svenska AB. It was frequently played on Swedish
Radio and hearing the unaffected, conversational story-telling
paired when needed with obvious theatrical operatic heft is
a pleasure. I bought the LP in 1962 and have treasured it ever
since, only recently supplanting it with the CD reissue.
went on to sing other popular material, both on record and on
radio and TV, notably Swedish uncrowned Poet Laureate Evert
Taube, represented here by two songs. It should be mentioned
that Min älskling (tr. 3) is Taube’s interpretation of
Robert Burns’ O my Luve’s like a red, red rose.
Wixell even represented Sweden at the European Song Contest
in 1965, singing a song by Dag Wirén, known at least to somewhat
older readers for his oft-played Serenade for Strings.
easily produced and flexible voice also made him an excellent
Lieder singer, as we can hear in Wilhelm Stenhammar’s joyous
Positivvisa, with Sweden’s then answer to Gerald Moore,
Jan Eyron, at the piano. That song, coupled with more Stenhammar
and a couple of Rangström songs, was also issued on an EMI EP
with Sixten Ehrling accompanying. We can hear the great conductor
in that role on the two Mozart songs on this disc, light and
stylish. That Wixell was an important Mozart-singer is, I hope,
still well-known. In the early 1970s he recorded both Don
Giovanni (the title role) and Le nozze di Figaro
(Count) for Philips with Colin Davis conducting. These versions
that can still make claims to be among the most recommendable.
It is also interesting, to say the least, to hear him in Jupiter’s
aria from the Proserpin of Mozart’s exact contemporary
Joseph Martin Kraus. There his fluent coloratura technique is
quite amazing for a baritone. Unfortunately the sound is a bit
uneven, fading up and down. The end is very abrupt but the singing
of the young star-to-be still makes it well worth the effort.
of Wixell’s earliest roles at the Royal Opera in Stockholm was
Silvio in Pagliacci. When his voice grew more dramatic
it was natural for him to upgrade to Tonio, whose Prologue
is heard here in a recording from 1975, when he was at the
zenith of his career. He recorded the role complete for Decca
at about that time with Pavarotti. By the side of Scarpia, however,
it was in the Verdi roles that he possibly reaped his greatest
laurels. Four Verdi operas are represented here – the oldest
from 1966, where he makes a heartrending reading (in Swedish)
of Posa’s death scene from Don Carlo. He was a natural
actor with enormous stage presence, and hearing him as Rigoletto
on this disc evokes very vivid memories of seeing him in the
role. Both the despair and hatred are depicted in his tone.
During his years in Stockholm he actually sang four different
parts in this opera. His Ceprano can be heard on the live recording
from 1959, (BIS-CD-296), conducted by Sixten Ehrling at white
heat, Nicolai Gedda as a most exuberant Duke, Margareta Hallin
challenging every other recorded Gilda in history and Wixell’s
great predecessor in Stockholm, Hugo Hasslo, likewise on a par
with most other Rigolettos.
Attila aria, recorded at the same time as the Rigoletto,
and issued on an all-Verdi recital disc on Philips, shows Wixell
on top form with ringing top and an intensity and swagger in
the cabaletta that practically sweeps you off your feet. That
the audience at Circus in Stockholm were just as stunned by
the Forza aria, concluding the disc, is easy to conclude
from the ovations.
his roughly contemporary competitors in the Italian Fach,
Piero Cappuccilli may have been an even deeper-probing interpreter
of some roles but with a duller voice. Renato Bruson was the
greater bel canto artist with a legato and seamless phrasing
not heard since Battistini’s days but also without real bite
in the more dramatic moments and too often quite monotonous.
Sherrill Milnes had a snarl and venom that at best made him
the most evil sounding of baritones, but his was also a more
uneven tone. Wixell with his tenor-like brilliance up high,
his involvement and his gusto deserves a place at least on a
par with the aforementioned and above a herd of unmentioned
baritones. He also sported a lyrical lightness retained practically
unimpaired during the greater part of his long career. These
his assets can be heard to great effect on this disc. The sound
is slightly variable but, the Kraus excerpt apart, is never
less than good.