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Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, April 2005

“Most of the present disc is occupied by the 16 songs he recorded in New York on April 4, 1952 which were released on LP as “Jussi Björling in Song”. I have owned the original LP for more than 40 years and played it innumerable times. What perplexed me at first when playing the CD was that the order of the songs was different from the LP, but a check with Harald Henrysson, curator of the Jussi Björling Museum and the annotator of this release, quickly revealed that the CD presents the songs in the order they were recorded. It is indeed stunning to listen through the session and hear the same freshness of voice, the same smooth pianissimos and the same shine to the top notes from beginning to end. No tiring at all through what must have been a very long session. Having played the LP maybe not regularly in later years but often enough there were no revelations hearing it in the new format, but a few random notes from my note–pad, besides what I have already said in this review, may be of interest:—

Listen to Tonerna, how he floats his tone in a ravishing pianissimo. This is to my mind his finest recording of the song, which he recorded again in 1957 with orchestra. Sjöberg was an amateur composer, working as a doctor in the little town of Hedemora just 40 kilometers south of Björling’s birth place and also the town from where another important Swedish singer came, the mezzo–soprano Kerstin Thorborg.

I think it is true to say that Björling always felt most at home when he sang in his native Swedish, there is a deeper identification in the Sjöberg and Sibelius songs and also in the two Grieg songs, Norwegian being very close to Swedish. He was always careful with words but when singing in German or any other language, except possibly Italian, there is an ever so slight feeling of the thinnest of veils between the singer and the microphone. But that apart, listen to Wanderers Nachtlied and there is the most lovely pianissimo, while Die böse Farbe is full–throated, impressively so, but maybe not quite in tune with the mood of the song. The very last song, Die Forelle, is elegant and flexible, maybe mirroring Björling’s interest in fishing. Listen also to Tosti’s Ideale. This was the final song on the original LP and the last note, again so ravishing, was always what lingered in my memory long after I had put the record back on its shelf.

The accompaniments are not more than ordinary and Jussi Björling may not have been an ideal Lieder singer in the sense that Fischer–Dieskau, Schwarzkopf or Peter Schreier were/are with their inflexions of the texts, but as pure singing of wonderful songs this is still hard to beat. Stefan Lindström’s restorations are made with care and respect for the original sound; there is some background noise to allow Jussi’s voice to sound as natural as possible, but never obtrusive in any way. Strongly recommended to all of you who, like me, have worn out the LP, to all of you who still regard Jussi as an opera tenor only and to anyone who likes wonderful singing.”

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, May 2004

The fifth Björling volume covers a period between the last months before the Second War and the tenor’s early LP disc LM 1771. There are eight 78 sides — four discs from 1939—40 — and the remainder of this recital derives from that April 1952 LP. The long–ish gap did see some inevitable deterioration in the freshness and immediacy of vocal production and the later discs saw him revisiting a few earlier sides so there is repertoire duplication. But what may have been slightly lost with age in terms of beauty of sound was compensated for in a deepening of emotive response. In interpretative terms I tend to prefer the post–War sides whilst acknowledging that in terms simply of sound Björling’s earlier self remains non–pareil.

The repertoire divides fairly evenly into Schubert, Strauss and Scandinavian — with single examples of his Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Liszt and Wolf. The songs are essentially canonic though his responses are never prosaic or intimidated. He’s full of light, lyric ease in Strauss’s Morgen whilst the voice deepens and darkens appropriately in Cäcilie — though the admixture of pleading manliness is ever–present. It made for a very apposite disc, the one side full of grace, the reverse side needy and more urgent. We hear with his Adelaide those qualities of mezza voce, floated with distinction, and intimacy that are so powerful a component of the Björling vocal armoury. There is no doubting the technique, nor the exquisite delicacy employed — though as an interpretation one needs to note that it remains rather neutral.

The same is true of his Schubert; the singing is touching, warm, yielding, and full of differing shades and colours — but it’s arguable if Björling here ever quite gets to the interpretative heart of the matter in these, of all, songs. The 1940 recording of Sibelius strongly highlights the sibilants, sometimes to distracting effect, but the performances are powerfully projected and mature, especially Svarta rosor and the desolation of the last bars of Säv, säv, susa. His Grieg and Sibelius are of course high water marks of this, or any, set but in the 1952 recordings we can hear a slight lack of athleticism in Strauss’ Ständchen and in the re-make of Morgen a rather heavier, less fresh tone. But he can certainly fine down that tone, as he does in his classic reading of Sjörberg’s Tonerna and there’s still plenty of steel left for Schubert’s Die Allmacht in this stentorian reading. There’s a hint of constriction in the voice in the Liszt and the sound here is certainly not as freely produced as was the case thirteen or so years earlier but as an example of a greater harvest of emotive depth in the face of encroaching limitations one can do no better than turn to Schubert’s Ständchen. The losses in terms of tonal luminescence are richly compensated for in respect of a greater depth of engagement, a more powerful alignment with the truth and textual illumination of the lieder singer’s art.

The notes are fine and helpful. The transfers retain a degree of surface noise and in the earlier 78s at least a trace of that metallic quality that could afflict some vocal recordings if not properly tamed. The LP transfer is good and in the main you won’t be disappointed.”

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