Jussi Björling in Concert: Finland and the USA
see end of review for track listing
BLUEBELL ABCD 116 [70:12 + 72:33]
It’s more than fifty years after Jussi Björling’s death. One would believe that today, all the sound archives would have been investigated down to the last grain of dust in the search for un-issued recordings yet still they pop up. On the present set twelve of the thirteen broadcast recordings from Helsinki have never before been issued commercially. There are a lot of CD-firsts, while others have been available before albeit in inferior sound. The restoration work has been done by Seth Winner, who was also responsible for the 4-disc WHRA box, issued a couple of years ago with American (and some Swedish) radio recordings. Naturally a lot of the repertoire is repeated. Jussi Björling was not, after his first eight years at the Stockholm opera, when he learnt 53 roles, most of them big ones, very keen on expanding his concert repertoire but there are a few things here that he sang on only a few occasions. The general collector may well feel that his commercially issued recordings, on 78s, EP and LP will do and there are comprehensive boxes on EMI, Sony (the RCA recordings) and Naxos, the latter overlapping with the other two to a great extent.
More inveterate collectors will want this latest issue - which also is reported to be the last issue from Bluebell, who have done a sterling job over the years to put on disc innumerable previously unavailable Jussi titles.
Naturally the sound quality varies quite a lot but one still has to admire the results, considering the condition of some of the material. In his “Engineer’s Note” Seth Winner relates some of the problems encountered, forcing him to spend hours and hours cleaning, correcting speed variations, editing in passages from other recordings where segments are missing.
There is no reason to go into detailed analysis of every track, but I will comment on some things.
The first four tracks, four Sibelius songs, are from a broadcast concert during the first Sibelius Week, which was held annually 1951-1965. The playing of the Finnish Radio orchestra is good but the recording is murky even though Björling’s voice rings out well. The following Helsinki programme is much better and the piano tone - Harry Ebert on top form - is excellent though there is some distortion of the voice. In both cases Björling is splendid and his In fernem Land is superior to the other existing recordings of that aria.
Tracks 14-19 are from his second appearance at the Ford Evening Hour Broadcast on 8 December 1940. Just six days earlier he had opened the Met season for the first time as Gustavus III in Un ballo in maschera, and the positive response to that premiere obviously still had positive effects on him; rarely did he sing with such infectious brio. La danza, sung in Swedish, is a virtuoso reading and Funiculì, funiculà has rarely been sung with such gusto. I am not sure - nobody else is either - that he sang Bartlett’s A Dream more than on this one occasion. It is a beautiful song that both Caruso and McCormack recorded.
On the Bell Telephone Hour of November 1948 the highlight is Song of India from Sadko. Björling sang the role in Stockholm and recorded the aria in Swedish. Here he sings it in English - and very well too.
The greater part of CD 2 is occupied by the New Orleans concert from 14 December 1955. The pianist is Frederick Schauwecker, Björling’s regular accompanist for many years in the US, and he is not always as sensitive as one could wish. Ombra mai fu is far too heavy, for instance. The recording balance is also poor with the piano front-stage and the singer rather backward. The singing is anyway top-drawer from beginning to end and Morgan’s Clorinda seems to be another rarity in Björling’s repertoire.
The concluding La donna e mobile and the Duke of Mantua - Gilda scene from the first act of Rigoletto is from the Ed Sullivan Show, and was televised on 17 February 1957. The sound is only middling but it is thrilling to hear Björling in excellent shape, more ardent than on the complete RCA recording of the opera made the year before. The lovely Hilde Güden is not at her very best but it is nice to have this document from one of only two occasions when the two sang together.
There are copious notes and several illustrations, among them a rare photo of Björling and Schauwecker.
The team behind this set and all the previous issues of Jussi Björling recordings have done sterling service to his memory and their best reward would be that even more people would invest in all the riches that this and the previous issues contain. A cultural achievement of the utmost importance.
A cultural achievement of the utmost importance.
CD 1 [70:12]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 - 1957)
1. Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte [3:18]
2. Säv, säv, susa [2:23]
3. Var det en dröm [2:19]
4. Svarta rosor [2:15]
Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
5. In fernem Land (Lohengrin) [4:46]
Edvard GRIEG (1843 - 1907)
6. En svane [2:45]
7. Ein Traum [2:19]
Gustaf NORDQVIST (1886 - 1949)
8. Till havs [2:20]
9. Säv, säv, susa [2:29]
10. Demanten på marssnön [3:31]
Paolo TOSTI (1846 - 1916)
11. L’alba separa salla luce l’ombra [2:18]
Carl SJÖBERG (1861 - 1900)
12. Tonerna [3:05]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 - 1945)
13. Mamma! ... Quel vino (Cavalleria rusticana) [3:52]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
14. Che gelida manina (La bohème) [4:31]
James Carroll BARTLETT (1850 - 1929)
15. A Dream [3:01]
16. Announcements [0:06]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
17. La danza [2:56]
18. Announcements [0:09]
Luigi DENZA (1846 - 1922)
19. Funiculì, funiculà [2:49]
20. Announcements [0:32]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 -1908)
21. Song of India (Sadko) [3:11]
22. Announcements [0:28]
23. L’alba separa salla luce l’ombra [2:03]
24. Announcements [0:06]
Henry GEEHL (1881 - 1961)
25. For You Alone [1:53]
26. Announcements [0:29]
Georges BIZET (1838 - 1875)
27. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (Carmen) [3:49]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 - 1893)
28. Ange adorable (Roméo et Juliette) [4:43]
CD 2 [72:33]
George Frederic HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
1. Frondi tenere ... Ombra mai fu (Serse) [4:20]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
2. Frühlingsglaube [3:24]
3. Die Forelle [1:56]
4. Ständchen [4:18]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
5. Traum durch die Dämmerung [3:07]
6. Zueignung [2:00]
7. Ein Traum [2:28]
8. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (Carmen) [3:52]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 - 1948)
9. Amor ti vieta (Fedora) [2:10]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)
10. Siren [1:56]
11. V molchan’i nochi taynoy [2:40]
12. Demanten på marssnön [3:30]
13. Svarta rosor [2:28]
14. Tonerna [3:30]
15. Ideale [3:17]
16. L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra [2:26]
Robert Orlando MORGAN (1865 - 1956)
17. Clorinda [1:51]
18. Come un bel di di Maggio (Andrea Chenier) [2:50]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
19. La donna e mobile (Rigoletto) [2:15]
20. E lucevan le stelle (Tosca) [3:09]
Guy d’HARDELOT (1858 - 1936) (Pen name for Helen Rhodes)
21. Because [2:37]
22. La donna e mobile [2:28]
23. Giovanna, ho dei rimorsi [1:03]
24. Signor nè principe [2:02]
25. È il sol dell’anima [3:07]
26. Che m’ami, deh! ripetimi [1:49]
Jussi Björling (tenor)
Bidú Sayão (soprano) (CD 1 tr. 28), Hilde Güden (soprano) (CD 2 tr. 23-26), Thelma Votipka (mezzo) (CD 2 tr. 23); Finnish Radio Orchestra/Nils-Eric Fougstedt (CD 1 tr. 1-4); Ford Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (CD 1 tr. 14-19); Bell Telephone Orchestra/Donald Voorhees (CD 1 tr. 20-27); San Francisco Opera Orchestra/Gaetano Merola (CD 1 tr. 28); Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Fausto Cleva (CD 2 tr. 22-26); Harry Ebert (piano) (CD 1 tr. 5-13); Frederick Schauwecker (piano) (CD 2 tr. 1-21);
rec. 20 June 1951, University Auditorium, Helsinki; 18 January 1955, Exhibition Hall B, Helsinki (CD 1 tr. 5-13); 8 December 1940, Masonic Temple Auditorium, Detroit, Michigan (CD 1 tr- 14-19); 15 November 1948, NBC Studios, Rockefeller Center, New York, NY (CD 1 tr. 20-27); ca. 30 September 1951, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, California (CD 1 tr. 28); 14 December 1955, Municipal Auditorium, New Orleans, Louisiana (CD 2 tr. 1-21); 17 February 1957, CBS’ Studio 50, New York, NY (CD 2 tr. 22-26)