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Birgit Nilsson Rarities
CD 1:
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos:
1.Ein Schönes war, hiess Theseus-Ariadne [6:41]
2. Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen [2:08]
3. Es gibt ein Reich [5:47]
4. Ein schönes Wunder [3:57]
5. Circe, Circe, kannst du mich hören? … Du schönes Wesen! … Bin ich ein Gott … Gibt en kein Hinüber? [19:49]
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
6. Zu neuen Taten [13:43]
rec. Recital New York, Lincoln Centre, Philharmonic Hall, 12 November, 1967
Niccolò PICCINNI (1728–1800)
Alessandro nelle Indie:
7. Se il ciel mi divide [5:08]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
8. Dem Unendlichen, D291b [4:25]
9. Die junge Nonne D828 [4:59]
10. Auflösung D807 [2:36]
11. Seligkeit D433 [2:12]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
12. Vissi d’arte [3:01]
13. Wiegenlied, Op. 41 No. 1 [4:24]
CD 2:
1. Kornblumen, Op. 22 No. 1 [1:58]
2. Freundliche Vision, Op. 48 No. 1 [2:34]
3. Zueignung, Op. 10 No. 1 [1:49]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
4. Höstkväll, Op. 38 No. 1 [4:39]
5. Säv, säv, susa, Op. 36 No. 4 [2:25]
Carl NIELSEN (1865–1931)
6. Den förste laerke, Op. 21 BK II, No. 2 [2:01]
7. Aebleblomst, Op. 10 No. 1 [0:54]
rec. Recital New York, Carneige Hall, 30 April, 1972
Richard WAGNER
8. Dich, teure Halle [3:16]
Hugo WOLF (1860–1903)
9. Gebet [2:43]
10. Begegnung [1:19]
11. Anakreons Grab [3:22]
12. Mignon [7:01]
13. Allerseelen, Op. 10 No. 8 [3:12]
14. Wiegenlied, Op. 41 No. 1 [4:40]
15. Du meines Herzens Krönelein, Op. 21 No. 2 [2:11]
16. Ständchen, op. 17 No. 2 [2:27]
Edvard GRIEG (1843–1907)
17. Og jeg vil ha mig en Hjertenskjaer, Op. 60 No. 5 [1:38]
18. Med en primulaveris, Op. 26 No. 4 [1:47]
19. Det første møde, Op. 21 No. 1[3:41]
20. Killingdans, Op. 67 No. 6 [1:48]
Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867–1942)
21. Aspåkerspolska [1:41]
Emil SJÖGREN (1853–1918)
22. Jeg giver mit digt til vaaren, Op. 1 No. 2 [1:41]
Erkki Gustav MELARTIN (1875–1937)
23. Gib mir dein Herze, Op. 73 No. 1 [2:35]
24. Tjugo år [Op. 162 No. 5 [2:13]
Alfredo CATALANI (1854–1893)
La Wally:
25. Ebben … ne andrò lontano [3:15]
Swedish Folk Song
26. Fjorton år tror jag visst att jag var [2:07]
Viennese Song
27. Im Prater blüh’n wieder die Bäume [2:39]
Salvatore MARCHESI (1822–1908)
28. La Foletta [1:29]
Rudolf SIECZYNSKI (1879–1952)
29. Wien, Wien, nur du allein [3:06]
CD 3:
Swedish Festival 1967
Richard WAGNER
1. I. Der Engel [3:22]
2. IV Schmerzen [2:36]
3. V Träume [6:14]
Tristan und Isolde:
4. Prelude [11:18]
5. Mild und leise [7:10]
rec. Concert at Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires 1967
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
6. Ah, perfido! Op. 65 [12:20]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
La forza del destino:
7. Pace, pace mio Dio! [5:40]
8. In questa Reggia [5:38]
rec. Charity Gala at Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires 1967
9. Säv, säv, susa, Op. 36 No. 4 [2:50]
Edvard GRIEG
10. En svane, Op. 25 No. 2 [3:06]
11. En drøm, Op. 48 No. 6 [3:10]
Salvatore MARCHESI
12. La Foletta [2:37]
Swedish Folk Song
13. Fjorton år tror jag visst att jag var [1:46]
Birgit Nilsson (soprano)
Set Svanholm (tenor); Carl-Axel Hallgren (baritone); Elisabeth Söderström (soprano) etc (CD1 tr 1-5); Jean Cox (tenor)(CD1 tr. 6); Royal Swedish Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Herbert Sandberg (CD1 tr. 1-5); Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner (CD1 tr. 6); John Wustman (piano) (CD1 tr. 7-13 and CD2); Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sergiu Celibidache (CD3 tr. 1-5); Orchestra della Teatro Colon/Roberto Kinsky (CD3 tr. 6-8); Ferdinand Leitner (piano) (CD3 tr. 9-12)
rec. Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm, 23 May 1949 (CD1 tr. 1-5); Chicago, 27 November 1974 (CD1 tr. 6); Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Centre, New York, 12 November 1967 (CD1 tr. 7-13 and CD2 tr. 1-7); Carnegie Hall, New York, 30 April 1972 (CD2 tr. 8-29); Stockholm 1967 (CD3 tr. 1-5); Teatro Colon Buenos Aires, 24 September 1967 (CD3 tr. 6-8); Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, 1 November 1967
GALA GL 100 624 [3 CDs: 78:57 + 76:23 + 67:54]


Three well-filled CDs with rare recordings by Birgit Nilsson, many of the songs to my knowledge never recorded commercially by her and thus adding to the picture of this great singer – isn’t it mouth-watering? Such was my reaction and the first five tracks, recorded at a performance at the Stockholm Opera in 1949 in very decent sound considering the date, were very pleasing. We hear a still lyrical Birgit Nilsson but on high she has the famous steel cutting through the orchestra. Es gibt ein Reich is already a mature reading. This was a role that suited her well but which she later dropped and it is good to have this document. Among her colleagues in Stockholm we hear a lot of Set Svanholm, internationally renowned as Siegfried and Tristan. He had little warmth in his voice but a lot of power and cutting edge and he is a good Bacchus. We also get a glimpse of a very young Elisabeth Söderström as Echo in one of her first appearances at the opera house, but the real surprise for many listeners is probably the high lyrical baritone of Carl-Axel Hallgren. He was a leading singer in Stockholm for more than thirty years and I often heard him in the early 1970s when he was past fifty but still in good shape.

Then we take a big leap 25 years ahead and land in Chicago and the prologue of Götterdämmerung with Birgit Nilsson a glorious Brünnhilde. She is matched by Jean Cox, powerful and lustrous, and the two singers trigger each other to ecstatic heights, abetted by Ferdinand Leitner who entices the superb Chicago Symphony to give their all. There are a couple of technical faults, a drop out just before Birgit Nilsson’s first notes and then a fade out at the end. Nevertheless, this is something to treasure.

From then on there is very little that is attractive on the first two CDs. Both the Lincoln Centre and the Carnegie Hall recitals are more or less completely ruled out due to the execrable recordings. Obviously someone has been positioned somewhere in the middle of the auditorium, probably in both cases with the piano in the foreground, which means that when Ms Nilsson sings anything softer than a mezzo-piano she is practically inaudible. The piano tone is clangy and the only thing that is recorded with some fidelity is the reactions from the audience. If one turns up the volume to hear anything at all of Birgit Nilsson the applause come as an earthquake: It is indeed difficult to give an opinion of what the singing is like, but to my ears at least she doesn’t seem in very good shape at either recital. She more or less cuts poor Schubert to pieces by applying her Brünnhilde-size voice on these lyrical miniatures and there are also many instances of faulty intonation. Tosca’s prayer comes as balm for a wounded soul and some songs were probably quite OK when heard on location but what comes out of my speakers was as near catastrophic as I can remember hearing. She sings several encores at Carnegie Hall and gives spoken introductions which the audience delight in. The ovations are tremendous and even with this miserable recording her eternally held final fortissimo in Wien, Wien, nur du allein comes over impressively.

On CD 3 things improve and what is entitled “Swedish Festival” is definitely worth hearing. The notes don’t list an orchestra for these excerpts but since it is Celibidache conducting it is almost certainly the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, which he managed to develop into a first rank international orchestra under his aegis. The sound is full, clear and well balanced but is unfortunately afflicted with distortion that primarily mars Birgit Nilsson’s forte and above. She recorded the Wesendoncklieder in the 1970s for Philips with Colin Davis but I prefer these versions when she was still at the peak of her career. A pity she didn’t sing all five. The prelude to Tristan und Isolde is given a glowing performance by Celibidache and the following Liebestod is at least as good as her complete recording from Bayreuth, made the year before.

The sound from Teatro Colon is again primitive and there is terrible distortion but at least Birgit Nilsson voice is in focus and she was in tremendous form. The Forza aria, which she often sang in concert but she never appeared in the complete opera. is thrilling and as the icy princess she has probably never been challenged.

The Charity Gala, also from Colon and with Ferdinand Leitner at the piano, at last lets us hear Birgit Nilsson in song from a tolerable sonic perspective. It is a bit distant and there is distortion but here she shows that she also was able to use her turbo voice in a more intimate format. Sibelius’ Säv, säv, susa is sung with hushed intensity and Grieg’s En svane with restraint and inwardness.

There is some confusion concerning the order of some of the songs in the tracklist and the encores at Colon are only marked “Announced by Birgit Nilsson”. I have corrected this in the header. The booklet has a quite extensive biography but of course no song texts.

This is definitely not a set for the general listener and question is if it was a good idea at all to release it. It won’t add anything to Birgit Nilsson’s reputation – rather the contrary – and had she been alive today I am certain that she would have protested loudly. Those who want some excellent “off-the-air” recordings with Birgit Nilsson are recommended to purchase the Bluebell disc with Swedish Radio recordings (see review) from the late 1950s and early 60s. The sound is very acceptable and as an extra bonus we get her very first commercial recording, a Berwald aria recorded in 1947.

Göran Forsling 



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