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Jussi Björling – Radamès, Alfredo, Roméo CD 1
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Aida, act 1 (Sw.) [35:09]
1. Si, corre voce che l’Etiope ardisca [1:35];
2. Se quell guerrier io fossi! … Celeste Aida [4:18];
3. Quale insolita gioia nel tuo sguardo! [3:16];
4. Vieni, o diletta appressati [2:48];
5. Alta cagion v’aduna [3:47];
6. Su! del Nilo al sacro lido [2:12];
7. Ritorna vincitor! [6:57];
8. Possente Fthà … Tu che dal nulla hai tratto [3:06];
9. Immenso Fthà! … Mortal, diletto ai Numi [3:05];
10. Nume, custode e vindice [3:57];
Inez Köhler (soprano) – Aida; Gertrud Pålsson-Wettergren (mezzo) – Amneris; Jussi Björling (tenor) – Radamès; Georg Svedenbrant (baritone) – Messaggero; Folke Jonsson (bass) – Ramfis; Inez Wassner (soprano) – Sacerdotessa; Leon Björker (bass) – Il Re; Royal Orchestra and Chorus/Kurt Bendix
rec. 29 March 1940
La traviata, Highlights (Sw.) [37:23]
Act I
11. Libiamo ne’lieti calici [2:55];
12. Un di, felice, eterea [6:06];
Act II
13. Lunge da lei … De’miei bollenti spiriti [4:09];
14: Mi chiamaste? Che bramate? … Ogni suo aver tal femmina [9.56];
15: Signora! … Che t’accadde? … Parigi, o cara [5:28];
16. Ah, non più, a un tempio … Ah! Gran Dio! Morir si giovine [3:03];
17. Finale: Ah, Violetta! … Voi, signor! … Prendi, quest è imagine … Se una pudica vergine [5:39]
Hjördis Schymberg (soprano) – Violetta; Jussi Björling (tenor) – Alfredo; Margit Sehlmark (contralto) – Annina; Conny Molin (baritone) – Germont; Georg Svedenbrant (baritone) – Barone; Gösta Lindberg (bass) – Dottore; Royal Orchestra and Chorus/Herbert Sandberg
rec. 29 August 1939
CD 2

Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
1. Tosca: E lucevan le stelle [3:43];
2. Turandot: Nessun dorma [3:01];
Stockholm Radio Orchestra/Sixten Ehrling
rec. 10 July 1943
3. La bohème: Che gelida manina (Sw.) [4:24];
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863–1945)
4. Cavalleria rusticana: O Lola (Sw.) [4:44];
Swedish Radio Orchestra/Nils Grevillius
rec. 8 April 1937
5. Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma! Quel vino [4:37];
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Tor Mann
rec. 10 November 1944
Giuseppe VERDI
6. Requiem: Ingemisco [3:47];
7. Rigoletto: Questa o quella [1:53];
8. Aida: Celeste Aida [4:18];
9. Che gelida manina [4:37];
Sw. Radio Orchestra/Sten Frykberg
rec. Spring 1951
Kurt ATTERBERG (1887–1974)
10. Fanal: Nu, bröder, ändas våra strider (Act III Finale)(Sw.) [5:03];
Jussi Björling (tenor) – Martin Skarp; Helga Görlin (soprano) – Rosamund; Gösta Bäckelin (tenor) – Vassal; Joel Berglund (bass-baritone) – Jost; Leon Björker (bass) – Duke; Royal Orchestra and Chorus/Nils Grevillius
rec. 29 January 1934
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Faust, act III, beginning [10:48]
11. Faites-lui mes aveux [4:18];
12. C’est ici? [3:08];
13. Salut! demeure chaste et pure (incomplete) [3:22];
Benna Lemon-Brundin (soprano) – Siebel; Jussi Björling (tenor) – Faust; Joel Berglund (bass-baritone) – Méphistophélès; Royal Orchestra/Nils Grevillius
rec. 25 September 1944
Roméo et Juliette, Act II (Sw.) [27:22]
14. O nuit, sous tes ailes obscures … [3:18];
15. L’amour, l’amour! … Ah! lève-toi soleil [4:53];
16. Hélas! moi le hair [8:16];
17. O nuit divine! Je t’implore! [6:25];
18. Va! repose en paix! [2:27]
Hjördis Schymberg (soprano) – Juliette; Göta Allard (mezzo) – Gertrude; Jussi Björling (tenor) – Roméo; Sven d’Ailly (bass) – Gregorio; Royal Orchestra and Chorus/Nils Grevillius
rec. 13 May 1943
BLUEBELL ABCD 103 [72:44 + 77:21]

Bluebell was started by the legendary Frank Hedman and after his death run by his wife Hanna. It has made invaluable contributions to the catalogue both through the release of many important recordings of present-day Swedish artists and music that otherwise might have been forgotten, and through a long series of historical singer portraits, to a large extent based on material from Swedish Radio’s archives. Besides a great number of discs with Jussi Björling there are volumes with singers of the calibre of Birgit Nilsson (see review), Elisabeth Söderström, Margareta Hallin, Barbro Ericson (magnificent contralto), Nicolai Gedda and Gösta Winbergh, Erik Saedén and Ingvar Wixell and the great Wagnerian Sigurd Björling. I hope to be able to review some of these in due time.

The majority of the material on the present set has never been issued before and it is fascinating to have Jussi Björling represented here in live accounts of three of his international roles, Aida, Faust and Roméo et Juliette, of which he only recorded Aida commercially, even though there exist live recordings from the Met of the other two. The fourth of the operas extensively represented here, La traviata, was one that he sang during his years as permanent member of the Stockholm Opera but then dropped. In fact the performance recorded was his last appearance as Alfredo. Hjördis Schymberg, the soprano Björling appeared most frequently with in Stockholm and who also partnered him at his very last performance in Stockholm in 1960, was making her debut in the role that evening. Violetta was to become her signature role. The whole performance was recorded and was also issued complete on LPs by Swedish Radio. It has also appeared on a number of ‘pirated’ CD releases but this is its first appearance on CD transferred directly from the original radio archive tapes. Considering the age of the recording – it was recorded three days before the outbreak of WW2 – the sound is decent and Björling is on top form, delivering the Brindisi with verve and elegance, singing Un di felice with a warmth and glow that surpasses anything in the recorded history, with the possible exception of Bergonzi. His act II aria is ardent but the most impressive singing of all is still to come: his denunciation of Violetta at the end of the Flora scene. Here he sings with such force and intensity that one could well expect his next role to be Otello. In the last act he sings a smooth and caring Parigi, o cara and Schymberg is touching in the final scene. Elsewhere it seems she is not quite inside the part yet, even though all the notes are there. A pity she never recorded this music commercially when she was at the height of her powers. She actually sang the act I aria on a Swedish EMI LP from 1955 with singers from the Stockholm Opera, but then she was a little past her best. That recording would be nice to see issued again with singers like Hugo Hasslo and Joel Berglund, Birgit Nilsson in her first Elisabeth’s Greeting Song from Tannhäuser, the young Margareta Hallin as a lovely Rosina and Jussi’s younger brother Gösta as an ardent Mario Cavaradossi sung with that unmistakable Björling timbre. Returning to the Traviata under scrutiny veteran Conny Molin has to be mentioned as an authoritative Germont.

The first half of CD 1 is a complete first act from Aida (complete, that is, except for the orchestral prelude) and besides Jussi Björling in glorious voice we also hear some other important singers from the period, including a warm-voiced Folke Jonsson as Ramfis, the sonorous Leon Björker, whose voice had a certain similarity to Tancredi Pasero’s, and international star Gertrud Pålsson-Wettergren as a dark-hued Amneris. Inez Köhler’s somewhat fluttery soprano may not be ideal for Aida but she sings a heart-felt Ritorna vincitor, met with extensive applause. Björling’s Celeste Aida is of course a highpoint with generously held top notes. The final B flat is triumphant but there’s no attempt at a diminuendo.

All this is sung in Swedish as is also the Roméo et Juliette extract on CD 2, where I wonder if Ah! lève-toi soleil has ever been so gloriously sung, even by Björling. Ms Schymberg is a sensitive Juliette and both singers are on top form in O nuit divine with Björling magically honeyed; note: honeyed, not syrupy.

The excerpt from Faust is a curious mix, linguistically, with Björling singing in French while Lemon-Brundin and Berglund sing in Swedish. Ms Lemon-Brundin is a good Siebel with silvery voice. Björling sings a very slow and restrained Salut! demeure, extremely beautiful and with wonderful legato and it is frustrating that we are not allowed to hear the end. It seems that the tape ran out before the aria.

Of the remaining items it is good to have the finale from Atterberg’s Fanal, somewhat dimly recorded at the opera’s premiere, but Björling, not yet 23, is impressively dramatic and dark-voiced. This scene was earlier available on a Gala compilation with Famous Swedish Opera Singers (Gala GL 333) and Björling also recorded commercially Martin Skarp’s aria. This is impressive music and one day I hope some adventurous company will record something from Atterberg’s operatic oeuvre. Cpo have already done sterling service to him by issuing the complete symphonies.

From sundry studio recordings from Swedish Radio, we get a passionate E lucevan le stelle in very good sound and a glowing Nessun dorma but best of all is a touching Mamma! Quel vino e generoso sung with that heart-rending plaintive tone and among the recordings from 1951 a light and airy Questa o quella stands out. He even inserts mocking laughter. These four titles were never preserved in the radio archives but a radio listener, Mrs Elin Dahlstrand, recorded it on a wire recorder and sent it as a gift to Swedish Radio in the 1980s.

In general the sound, although a bit variable, should not pose any problems to lovers of great singing. The conductors are all out of the top drawer and it is interesting to have an early example of Sixten Ehrling, just turned 25 at the time of recording. The curator of the Jussi Björling Museum, Harald Henrysson, contributes one his well-informed liner-notes and there are some infrequently seen photos, among them one showing baritone Einar Larson giving Jussi a kick in the pants for good luck before entering the stage for the Aida performance.

There are riches aplenty on these two discs. Björling completists need them of course but general collectors should also hear them and marvel at the divine voice.

Göran Forsling

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