Jussi Björling Jussi at Gröna Lund (complete recordings: 1950–1960)
CD 1 [78:52]

28 July 1960
August SÖDERMAN (1832 – 1876)
1. Trollsjön [6:12]
Aleksandr BORODIN (1833 – 1887)
2. Vladimir’s Cavatina from Prince Igor [6:07]
Paolo TOSTI (1846 – 1916)
3. Ideale [4:15]
Gustaf NORDQVIST (1886 – 1949)
4. Till havs [3:40]
Ragnar ALTHÉN (1883 – 1961)
5. Land du välsignade [4:29]
Guy d’HARDELOT (pseudonym for Helen RHODES) (1858 – 1936)
6. Because [3:21]

20 August 1959
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
7. Verborgenheit [3:50]
Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
8. Es muss ein Wunderbares sein [2:57]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
9. Ständchen [3:39]
Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867 – 1942)
10. Som stjärnorna pÅ himmelen [3:17]
11. Till havs [2:49]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)
12. Come un bel di di maggio from Andrea Chénier [3:45]
Ejnar EKLÖF (1886 – 1954)
13. Morgon [3:43]
Ernesto De CURTIS (1875 – 1937)
14. Torna a Surriento [2:23]

16 June 1959
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
15. Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön from Die Zauberflöte [4:34]
16. Traum durch die Dämmerung [3:13]
17. Cäcilie [2:35]
August KÖRLING (1842 – 1919)
18. Aftonstämning [2:29]
19. När jag för mig själv i mörka skogen gÅr [2:57]
20. Morgon [3:27]
21. Till havs [2:11]
Carl MILLÖCKER (1842 – 1899)
22. Nu är jag pank och fÅgelfri from Der Bettelstudent [2:30]
CD 2 [76:47]

26 June 1958
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
1. Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön from Die Zauberflöte [4:43]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
2. In the Silence of Night [2:59]
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
3. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée from Carmen [4:27]
4. Aftonstämning [2:55]
5. Till havs [3:47]
6. Nu är jag pank och fÅgelfri from Der Bettelstudent [2:35]
7. Land du välsignade [3:14]
Ernesto De CURTIS
8. Torna a Surriento [2:27]

5 August 1957
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834 – 1886)
9. Cielo e mar! from La Gioconda [5:04]
Ambroise THOMAS (1811 – 1896)
10. Hon kunde icke tro from Mignon [4:29]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
11. Di’ tu se fedele from Un ballo in maschera [3:33]
12. Morgen [4:02]
13. Cäcilie [2:43]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945)
14. Mamma! Quel vino from Cavalleria rusticana [4:57]
15. Till havs [2:38]

19 July 1956
Giuseppe VERDI
16. Celeste Aida from Aida [5:16]
Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812 – 1883)
17. M’appari tutt’amor from Martha [3:46]
18. Ständchen [3:01]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957)
19. Demanten pÅ marssnön [3:54]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
20. Che gelida manina from La bohème [5:49]
CD 3 [76:48]
cont’d from CD 2
Giuseppe VERDI
1. La donna è mobile from Rigoletto[2:25]
2. Nu är jag pank och fÅgelfri from Der Bettelstudent [2:51]
3. Land du välsignade [3:24]

10 August 1951
Georges BIZET
4. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée from Carmen [4:35]
Carl SJÖBERG (1861 – 1900)
5. Tonerna [3:34]
6. Jungfrun under lind [3:35]
Giuseppe VERDI
9. La donna è mobile from Rigoletto [3:41]
10. Morgon [2:57]

5 July 1951
11. Cielo e mar from La Gioconda [5:28]
Emil SJÖGREN (1853 – 1918)
12. I drömmen du är mig nära [3:26]
13. Ich möchte schweben [3:19]
14. Nessun dorma from Turandot [3:58]
15. Mamma! Quel vino from Cavalleria rusticana [4:30]
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871 – 1927)
16. Sverige [3:04]
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919)
17. Mattinata [2:36]

6 July 1950
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 – 1864)
18. O paradiso from L’Africaine [3:14]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
19. Die böse Farbe from Die schöne Müllerin [2:25]
20. Ständchen [2:17]
21. L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra [2:20]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)
22. Come un bel di di maggio from Andrea Chénier [2:54]
23. O Colombin from Pagliacci [1:59]
Jussi Björling (tenor), Bertil Bokstedt (piano) (CD 1 trs. 1 – 14; CD 2 trs. 1 – 15), Harry Ebert (piano) (CD 1 trs. 15 – 22; CD 2 trs. 16 – 20); CD 3 trs. 1 – 23)
Liner notes by Harald Henrysson and Kristian Krogholm but no song texts
BLUEBELL ABCD 114 [3 CDs: 78:52 + 76:47 + 76:48]

The Jussi Björling centennial this year (2011) has resulted in a great number of memorial programmes, concerts and seminars all over Europe and the US. There has also been a steady stream of CDs. Besides single issues there have been important boxed sets. My colleague Jonathan Woolf has already reviewed the WHRA set with four discs crammed with the American radio recordings (see review). Several of these have never before been issued and many others were known to specialist collectors only in pirated issues in often execrable sound. Now they can be heard in amazingly good sonics, often fully on a par with studio recordings from the same period. Sony has issued a 14-CD box, covering all Jussi Björling’s LP-albums; not only his solo recitals but also highlight discs from all his complete RCA operas. This set will be reviewed in due time. On Naxos there will be another box, comprising the CDs that have been issued individually during the last few years with some additional material culled from his complete operas. Most of his HMV recordings were also issued in an EMI box in the Icon series a couple of years ago (see review). It should still be available. In other words: there is a plethora to choose from, involving a great deal of duplication. The true enthusiasts – and we are many! – will certainly want all of it while others will be satisfied with smaller quantities.

The present issue presents material that to some extent has been available before but these are new transfers. Now for the first time every surviving item from the Gröna Lund concerts has been released. These include three numbers from Björling’s concert repertoire that have never before been available on record. More about that in a moment.

Gröna Lund is an amusement park on the peninsula of DjurgÅrden, just across the water from the Old Town. On the outdoor concert stage there Björling appeared regularly all through his career, close to fifty times. Just across the street is Skansen, the large outdoor museum with old buildings and lots of wild animals – and also an outdoor stage. It was there that he sang more than fifty times and thus established his status as a singer of the people, a status that no opera singer in Sweden has achieved before of since. There are few surviving recordings from Skansen but the Gröna Lund sessions are valuable documents of his art during his last ten years. The sound, though better than ever, is variable, the earliest from a private recording, the rest recorded by Gröna Lund’s technical staff. Christer Eklund has very successfully restored this material, in spite of having to work with copies of the original tapes. The originals were destroyed in a fire at Gröna Lund some years ago.

Recorded live before an audience of 10,000 to 15,000 people there are crowd noises, the wind can sometimes play an active part in the proceedings. These factors are futile compared to the fascination of listening to the great tenor live, communicating with his audience. Those evenings often resulted in performances that feel more alive than the studio efforts. This also means that there can be technical imperfections, the odd slip of memory or that his voice was in better condition at some concerts than others. However Björling on less than top form is still better than almost any other tenor in 100% top shape. The pleasure of hearing his golden tone pouring out in the summer evening is something to treasure.

As can be seen in the header many songs and arias are duplicated and this invites comparisons. It is often difficult to decide - if this is necessary – which one is best. His recipe for success was simple: a few popular opera arias, a couple of Lieder – Richard Strauss often figured on his recital programmes – occasionally Tosti’s Ideale or something else from that repertoire and some favourite Swedish songs, where especially the always requested Till havs drew ovations from the listeners.

I am not going to give a comprehensive analysis of the individual numbers. I leave that to the listener, but those who need some kind of guidance are advised to read Björling connoisseur Kristian Krogholm’s in-depth comment to all the numbers, 65 in all. Here are also three never before issued numbers that Björling only occasionally sang. Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön from Die Zauberflöte (sung in Swedish) is a reminder of his early years at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, where he sang Mozart – his debut at the age of nineteen was as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. He always stated that singing Mozart was good for the voice. Stylistically his Tamino is more 19th century dramatic than 18th century elegant. One misses the honeyed tone of say Fritz Wunderlich or Nicolai Gedda but Björling’s approach is not completely off the mark. Tamino is a prince and thus a hero and this prince is not one to tamper with. Hearing this powerful rendition one can imagine Tamino successfully fighting and defeating the dragon in the first act without the help of the three ladies. He sang this aria both in 1958 and 1959.

The aria from Mignon, also sung in Swedish, is gloriously sung, even though it is obvious that his voice wasn’t in the best of shape. He has to clear his throat several times. But it is obvious that he would have been a splendid Wilhelm Meister had he ever got the chance to sing the complete opera. In some respects Björling was at his very best in French repertoire.

An even more sensational choice of aria is Arlecchino’s serenade from Pagliacci. Björling was a great Canio but here he sings this comprimario role with glow and elegance. This was the encore at the earliest of the preserved Gröna Lund concerts in 1950 and consequently is the last item on disc 3. For some reason, the material is presented in reversed order, beginning with the very last concert, recorded on 28 July 1960, only six weeks before he died. Together with the concert recorded in Gothenburg a week later, these are the last recordings of his voice and art.

No true admirer of Jussi Björling can afford to be without these recordings.

Göran Forsling

No true admirer of Jussi Björling can afford to be without these recordings.