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alternatively Crotchet

In Concert – Jussi Björling Live at Carnegie Hall
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
1. Adelaide [6:42]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
2. Frühlingsglaube [3:24]
3. Die Forelle [1:53]
4. Ständchen [4:20]
5. Die böse Farbe (from Die schöne Müllerin) [2:42]
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
6. Traum durch die Dämmerung [3:06]
7. Cäcilie [2:04]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
8. Ständchen [1:49]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
9. Il mio tesoro (from Don Giovanni) [4:00]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867–1948)
10. Amor ti vieta (from Fedora) [2:11]
Georges BIZET (1838–1875)
11. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (Flower Song from Carmen) [3:46]
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
12. .Instant charmant; En ferment les yeux (Dream Song from Manon) [3:41]
Paolo TOSTI (1846–1916)
13. Ideale [3:17]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
14. È lucevan le stelle (from Tosca) [3:05]
15. L’alba separa della luce ombra [2:39]
Stephen FOSTER (1826–1864)
16. I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair [3:43]
Bonus Tracks:
Manon Lescaut:
17. Ah! Manon, mi tradisce [2:38]
18. Presto in fila … No! Pazzo son! [3:55]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Il trovatore:
19. Deserto sulla terra [1:39]
20. Di qual tera luce … Ah! si ben mio [4:00]
21. Di quella pira [2:03]
Georges BIZET
Les Pêcheurs de Perles:
22. Au fond du temple saint [4:57]
Henry GEEHL (1881–1961)
23. For You Alone [2:03]
Guy d’HARDELOT (Helen RHODES) (1858–1936)
24. Because [2:03]
Jussi Björling (tenor)
Frederic Schauwecker (piano)(tr. 1–16); Licia Albanese (soprano) (tr. 17), Franco Calabrese (bass) (tr. 18), Enrico Campi (bass) (tr. 18), Orchestra of Rome Opera/Jonel Perlea (tr. 17–18); Leonard Warren (baritone) (tr. 19), Zinka Milanov (soprano) (tr. 20), Robert Shaw Chorale (tr. 21), Robert Merrill (baritone) (tr. 22), RCA Victor Orchestra/Renato Cellini (Tr. 19–22); Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Stockholm/Nils Grevillius (tr. 23–24)
rec. Carnegie Hall, 24 September 1955 (tr. 1–16); Rome, July 1954 (tr. 17–18); New York February–March 1952 (tr. 19–21); New York 3 January 1951 (tr. 22); Stockholm, 3 September 1937 (tr. 23); Stockholm 7 September 1948 (tr. 24)
ALTO ALC1007 [75:32]

The greater part of this disc is occupied by the sixteen titles recorded at a concert in Carnegie Hall in September 1955. That particular collection has been available on and off – mostly on, I believe – for more than fifty years and now that it is out of copyright it will probably pop up on sundry labels specializing in transferring old shellacs and LPs. The Alto label was new to me but according to some information in the inlay they produce other things as well including the “Baroque Bohemia & beyond” series. Not long ago RCA, the former copyright holder, issued this concert again with additional numbers, not published before and die-hard Björling fans should primarily turn to that disc. I haven’t heard it in that newest incarnation but making a couple of random comparisons with earlier RCA issues indicated that Alto’s transfers are not the most sophisticated. That also goes for some of the fillers, or “bonus tracks” which seems to be the buzz-word at the moment. The famous Pearl Fishers’ duet, for instance, was curiously “swervy” or whatever soubriquet to apply to it: listening with headphones I had a feeling that the whole recording studio was rotating. Probably Naxos will also issue it before long, but then without the new items, so intended buyers may well want to wait.
Another less than sophisticated feature is the playing of the pianist, and that is something that no transfer wizard can rectify. Frederic Schauwecker was Björling’s regular pianist in the US. He must have had hidden talents because what I have heard of him has seldom been very uplifting. The beginning of Adelaide, for example, is limping and clangy - a recurring characteristic. The instrument seems in not very good shape as well – or is it the recording?
Anyway, for Jussi Björling it doesn’t seem to matter and much of the singing here is among his finest, inspired no doubt by the enthusiastic audience. He recorded Adelaide early in his career and his affection for the song has obviously not waned in spite of frequent programming. He sings it beautifully with a magically hushed final … Adelaide. His Frühlingsglaube is warm, Die Forelle flounders merrily, he sings Ständchen with a touching shiver in the voice and Die böse Farbe is intense.
In Strauss’s Traum durch die Dämmerung he demonstrates his sovereign legato, building the song towards the climax and then back to a wonderful pianissimo. In Cäcilie he shows off his brilliant top, causing a riot in the hall, while Brahms’ Ständchen is light and airy.
Over then to opera, where Mozart certainly isn’t his cup of tea. The runs are perfect and his nimble and smooth voice should be right for this music but there is no light and shade and his volume control is set far too high. Amor ti vieta is also full-voiced but this is music where the audience expects that thrill – and they get it!
In the Flower Song from Carmen, on the other hand, his phrasing is so sensitive, so imploring and there is no lack of glow. The other French item, the Dream Song from Manon, is marvellously sung with a half-voice that even a Leopold Simoneau would have envied. He was indeed superb in French repertoire and it is a pity that he sang so little: Faust and Romeo were the two roles he kept for his international repertoire, but Des Grieux and Don José, maybe Werther and even Hoffmann would have been fascinating to hear from him.
His soft Ideale is as close to the ideal as one can expect to come and È lucevan le stelle is also inward and lyrical, making his passionate ending so much more telling. After an ardent L’alba separa della luce ombra he rounds off with an unaffected but ravishing Jeanie with the light brown hair.
The fillers are a mixed bag: well chosen excerpts from arguably his two best complete sets, the Pearl Fishers’ duet with Robert Merrill matching Jussi in glorious singing and finally two popular tenor songs recorded several years earlier in Stockholm.
The inlay has biographical notes on Björling by James Murray, who is mistaken when he states that Tosca was his last complete opera recording. It was recorded in Rome in July 1957, a little more than three years before his untimely death and after that he also recorded Cavalleria rusticana for Decca in September, Turandot in July 1959 and Madama Butterfly in September-October the same year. As late as June 1960, only three months before he passed away, he recorded Verdi’s Requiem in Vienna, and his singing of Ingemisco is as glorious as ever.
As I have implied: musically this disc is superb but the same material can be had from other sources in better sound.
Göran Forsling


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