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The Jussi Björling Series
04 Jun 2007

The Jussi Björling Series: rare opera recordings from Stockholm

“We’ll discuss the greatest tenor in history, Jussi Björling, and his astounding voice.”

The Jussi Björling Series: rare opera recordings from Stockholm.
Aida-Act1 – Traviata (highlights) – Roméo et Juliette act II – Faust act III beginning – Fanal act III finale – Arias from Tosca, Turandot, Bohème, Cavalleria, Requiem, Aida.

Jussi Björling, tenor, et al.

Bluebell ABCD 103 [2CDs]

$35.00 (w/ Jussi Björling Society membership)  Click to buy

You can read this line in bold letters on the Björling-Yahoo-Groupssite. In great detail every Björling-recording, scrap of recording — whatever the source — is discussed and rediscussed with infinite love and care (though Dan Shea, the able chairman of the American Björling-Society takes care that other singers, and not only tenors, get their due as well in the many interesting discussions). There is something moving in the fact that almost half a century after his death, a singer can still evoke such love and loyalty; especially when those who heard him in the flesh are rapidly dwindling.

I’m sure each member of the Society thinks it his duty to acquire this double CD in the Jussi Björling Series even though parts appeared earlier on LP or CD. But what about the rest of us ? Those who normally won’t buy a CD where Faust’s ‘Salut, demeure chaste et pure’ is cut off before the climax. Well, it may be still worthwhile as there are some real gems to be discovered. The Aida first act is previously unreleased and gives us young Björling in 1940 when, with historical hindsight, he was probably the best tenor of that particular moment. The somewhat tentative days of his youth, witness his Eric Odde recordings, were over and the 29-year old tenor was now extremely sure of his voice and technique. The voice shines with health and the rich overtones give an impression of pure but strong silver. Though he always was looked upon as a paragon of style, this Aida sung in his own language, in a not overly big house where he felt completely at ease, prove that in those halcyon days words like “a shameless top note hunter” wouldn’t be amiss. He clearly takes an extra breath so as to deliver a magnificent and long held B at the end of ‘Celeste Aida’.

The best reason to purchase the set however lies in the very rare highlights of Traviata (once issued on LP). I don’t know why he stopped singing the role and never recorded it commercially, but he is brilliant in it. He has the plangent tone for ‘Un di felice’, the rage for the party scene and the morbidezza for ‘Parigi, o cara’. Not unless Carlo Bergonzi, in one of his very best commercial recordings, would there be an Alfredo who could compete with the Swede. His Roméo is better known and this Swedish version of 1943 is at least on a par with the recording of the famous Met-performance with Sayao.

Interesting, but too short, is the 5-minute piece from one of the few modern opera’s he ever sang: Atterberg’s Fanal. The arias from radio concerts have sometimes been issued on other CD’s and LP’s and are well-known. The few new releases still cover the same territory as Björling’s concert repertory was seemingly not over big in those days. Still these are brilliant versions of Tosca, Turandot and Bohème. Some of the same arias come back in the unreleased radio concert of 1951 and even the fervent Björling fan will have to admit that some of the youthful sheen and brilliance has gone. All in all, a fine issue that will give joy to all lovers of good singing and should not be reserved for Björling admirers alone.

Jan Neckers

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