Jussi Björling – Commented record list

by Daniele Godor

 

CONTENTS

Preface

I. Studio recordings

I. A Single arias/duets/scenes/songs

I. B Complete operas

II. Live recordings

II. A Single arias/duets/scenes/songs

II. B Partial recordings of complete operas

II. C Complete operas and masses

III. Addendum

 

PREFACE

Jussi Björling left an enormous amount of recordings of which most have been listed in the extraordinary discography by Harald Henrysson (2nd ed., 1992). An evaluation of his recordings has, however, not been done yet.

The recordings of Björling are a complicated case as the rapid and radical development of recording techniques played a major role in the impression Björling's voice makes on the listener. When Björling started to record as a tenor, he was recorded on wax discs. Later, recordings were made with magnetic tapes. Björling had contracts with HMV and RCA, and each record label had an own idea of how their recordings should sound and recorded their artists differently. In addition to that, there is a lot of live material that was recorded by either broadcast companies or private individuals. Live recordings were only in a few exceptions made by the major record labels. In other words: the voice of Björling through the decades reflects the method and sound philosophy that stood behind the recording.

In his first about 20 active years as a tenor, Björling was an exclusive artist of HMV/EMI (1929-1950). From 1950 to 1960, he recorded for the American RCA. RCA cooperated with EMI until 1957, and a few records made in 1952 were actually recorded by EMI. Victoria de Los Angeles was an exclusive EMI artist but participated in three complete opera recordings with Björling, which were all recorded and released by RCA and later by EMI. When RCA started another cooperation with DECCA, a few recordings with Björling were made and released by DECCA. The recordings made by HMV/EMI were all made on wax discs. RCA almost exclusively used magnetic tapes. This had, apart from Björling's natural development, a major impact on how his voice sounded on record.

The wax sound was usually soft, warm and a bit blurry and generally singer friendly. It is very difficult to find records from the 1930s and 1940s made on wax that sound harsh – and that applies not only to vocalists, but also to instrumentalists and orchestras. It is not a coincidence that the common attribution of Björling's "golden period" is identical with the period he recorded on wax. Magnetic tapes, a technology used for the first time serially by the German Reichsrundfunk and then exported to Russia and the US, produced a completely different sound picture. The sound was metallic, crisp and hard. While some voices sounded good on both media (Melchior, Rosvæl;nge), others, who might have had a certain hardness in the voices that had been absorbed by the softness of the wax recording, found the hardness enhanced by the magnetic tape sound (Anders, Völker). Björling belongs to the latter group.

Usually, there is talk about a vocal crisis, beginning in 1950. This is the first year of Björling's contract with RCA and the beginning of his tape recordings. Especially in the first half of the 1950s, a dry and sober sound picture, probably following Toscanini's image of good sound, characterized RCA's sound philosophy. The dry, hard and metallic sound was not ideal for Björling's voice. In addition, Björling had begun to move his voice into spinto fach around 1947/48 and continued until the development reached its climax in the years 1952/53, when he recorded "Cavalleria rusticana" and "Pagliacci" for RCA. The voice was darker and a bit shorter in range and the combination of his vocal development and the new recording methods are probably the reason for why his voice gained so much hardness and even harshness in the upper register during those years. Another problematic issue (see comments in the discography) was Björling's choice of repertoire. While the voice had changed, the repertoire had remained more or less the same as before. Other theories, like for example Björling's alleged alcoholism or the assumption that he tried to make his voice ready for a debut in "Otello", have no fundament. The stories about Björling's alcoholism come mainly from Robert Merrill who was fond of gossip and hardly is a serious source. Anna-Lisa Björling denied Merrill's statements in the book about her husband. The rumours about "Otello" have no fundament, as it was Björling himself who denied having the right voice for the role (see Henrysson).

Recording for RCA during the first half of the 1950s was therefore not the best choice for Björling, and it is a great pity that most of his complete studio recordings were made by RCA. Furthermore, the exlcusive RCA artists were naturally singers who were famous and popular in the USA, in particular at the Metropolitan, and RCA seems to have recorded them mainly for economic reasons. Zinka Milanov for example (she is singing on four of Björling's complete opera recordings) was past her prime when the recordings were made. She was not an international artist, she was musically inaccurate and her expression was unidiomatic. Another case is Leonard Warren who was hired by RCA whenever a dramatic baritone was needed, apparantly no matter if he was suited for a certain part or not. Not all the complete opera recordings made by RCA were as problematic though as the first ones from 1952/53. The sound improved and became less dry in the second half of the 1950s. The "Bohème" from 1956 is a great sounding document. So is the "Turandot" from 1959 with Nilsson and Tebaldi, recorded in RCA's "Living Stereo". The majority is, however, substandard, especially the four Björling-Milanov-Warren projects: "Il trovatore", "Cavalleria rusticana"/"Pagliacci", "Aida" and "Tosca". It is a pity that Björling was a Metropolitan-based and therefore RCA-bound artist during those years. To hear Björling with Serafin or Karajan, Callas, Bastianini or Gobbi would certainly have been an interesting alternative.

The live recordings have to be seen with similar reservations. First of all, the sound quality is very varied. The sound of most of the broadcast recordings, especially the ones from the US, was compressed – a normal procedure for broadcasts in which the quiet parts get amplified and the loud parts get reduced in volume. Compression enhances the voice, as the voice sounds loud throughout the entire range. The resulting sound picture is very deceiving. Also many of the pirated live recordings have to be taken with a grain of salt. Often, the sound reproduced by amatorial recording devices of the 1950s is blurry and metallic at the same time – a combination that gives a totally distorted image of a voice and has an enhancing effect (cf. the "Tosca" and the "Cavalleria" from 1959 in comparison with the "Faust" from the same year and the same opera house). Most of the live recordings were made with the microphone very close to the singers, which makes it difficult to judge the sound of the ensemble and how every single singer fitted in it and how well their voices projected. The Met broadcasts were particulalry deceiving as Björling's voice (cf. the 1947 "Roméo" and almost any other broadcast) sounds much bigger than how it apparantly was. Only few recordings, like for example the 1939 "Trovatore" from Covent Garden and the recordings from Vienna, were made from a distance and give a more truthful impression of how Björling might have sounded in the house. The house recordings made by the Royal Opera in Stockholm are usually of better quality than the Met broadcasts but suffer from the unattractive acoustics. The release of the 1957 "Rigoletto" from Stockholm was probably edited with additional reverb as the acoustics are significantly different. The few commercial live recordings made by RCA are not much better than many of the pirated live recordings and broadcasts as they captured Björling's voice with the same metallic dryness as in the studio during the first half of the 1950s. The recordings made by the Swedish Radio are the ones where Björling's voice seems to have been recorded very well. These recordings are not compressed, the sound is neither harsh nor too blurry, and many of the recordings were apparantly not made with the microphone too close to the singer. When the microphone is too close, only certain aspects of the voice get caught while others (the development of the voice inside the room) get lost.

The many releases of the private and broadcast recordings are another problematic issue. Many were produced by obscure labels such as "Legato Classics" (by Ed Rosen) or EJS (by Edward J. Smith), often in poor quality and with false information about recording dates. But even some larger and more reliable labels stood out for their careless work. "Bluebell" of Sweden, a leading label in the distribution of rare Björling material, did not repitch any of the recordings made at the Tivoli of "Gröna Lund" in Stockholm. The pitch variance is constant (either too high or too low), and the problem would have been easy to fix. Most of the existing live material needs to be remastered and repitched, and the double anniversary of 2010/2011 would have been a very good moment for a complete remastered edition.

 

I. Studio Recordings

a) Single arias/duets/scenes/songs

 

1929

Dec. 18 – Stockholm, Concert Hall, Attic Auditorium – N. Grevillius

 

         De Curtis – Torna a Surriento [Sw]

         Sjögren – I drömmen du är mig nära [Sw]

         Körling – Vita rosor [Sw]

         Geehl – For you alone [Sw]

 

This recording session was made a few months after Björling was accepted as a student by his future teacher John Forsell, who wrote about Björling in his diary: "Remarkably good, a phenomenon, 17 years old". Björling did not yet have any experience on the operatic stage.

The recordings show that Björling's voice with its distinctive timbre and melancholic quality was already in place by the age of 17. An underdevelopped low register is evident. At times, the voice sounds a bit shaky and insecure, and there is a certain sluggishness in the musical expression.

 

 

1930

May 12 – Stockholm, Concert Hall, Attic Auditorium – N. Grevillius

 

         Herbert – Naughty Marietta: Ah, sweet mystery [Sw]

         Schrader: I de lyse næl;tter [Sw]

 

 

Sep. 29 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Gounod – Roméo et Juliette: Ah, lève-toi, soleil [Sw]

         Verdi – Rigoletto: Questa o quella [Sw]

         Leoncavallo: Mattinata [Sw]

         Peterson Berger: När jag för mig själv [Sw]

         Peterson Berger: Bland skogens höga [Sw]

These recordings were made shortly after Björling's debut on the operatic stage as the Lamplighter in Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" on July 21, 1930. A minor role in Ziedner's "Bellmann" had followed as well as his first appearances as Don Ottavio.

Musically and vocally, Björling is still immature and has not developped much since the first recordings. The renditions of the arias by Gounod and Verdi are, due to the still limited vocal abilities, not very exciting. The acuti are short and sound a bit forceful, and the final high note in "Questa o quella" is very scratchy. The aria seems to have been still a bit too demanding.

 

Oct. 08 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Toselli: Serenata [Sw]

         Arthur: Today [Sw]

         Elgar: Salut d'amour [Sw]

         Trad.: Tantis Serenad [Sw]

         De Curtis: Carmela [Sw]

         Ball: Love me and the world is mine [Sw]

 

 

 

1931

Feb. 13 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – H. Bingang

 

         Kálmán – Das Veilchen vom Montmartre: Du Veilchen [Sw]

         Ray: The sunshine of your smile [Sw]

         Romberg – The desert song: The desert song [Sw]

 

These recordings show a slight improvement in Björling's voice and technique, but there is no hint in his singing that could make one guess that Björling had had a succesful debut in the role of Arnold in Rossinis "Guillaume Tell" on December 27, 1930 at the Royal Opera Stockholm. He did not record anything of the repertoire he sang on stage. For records, he sang mostly songs and operetta tunes.

 

Sep. 18 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Åström: I lyckans tempelgård [Sw]

         Törnquist: O, milda sång

 

 

Sep. 19 – Stockholm, Concert Hall, Small Auditorium – F. Winter ▼

 

         Njurling: När rosorna vissna och dö [Sw]

 

This is Björling's first record made under the pseudonym "Erik Odde". It was not unusual for operatic singers to use pseudonyms when making records as refrain singers, but it seems that Swedish HMV had forced Björling to use a pseudonym for not having Björling's name dominate the release sheets. Odde-recordings are marked with ▼.

 

 

1932

Jan. 07 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Trad.: Varför älskar jag? [Sw]

         Bickvor: Min sommarmelodi [Sw]

 

Jan. 11 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Léhar – Das Land des Lächelns: Dein ist mein ganzes Herz [Sw]

         Léhar – Das Land des Lächelns: Von Apfelblüten [Sw]

 

These recordings were made after Björling had added Erik from Wagner's "Der fliegende Holländer" and Il Conte Almaviva from Rossini's "Barbiere" to his repertoire (the Figaro of his performances was Set Svanholm). In February 1932, Björling would for the first time sing Il Duca di Mantova from Verdi's "Rigoletto".

The voice seems to have grown and has more body then in the 1931 recordings. The low register is still weak in sound and intonation.

 

Jan. 12 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – F. Winter ▼

 

         Sylvain: Det er något som binder mitt härta vid dig [Sw]

 

Jan. 13 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Abraham – Die Blume von Hawaii: Du traumschöne Perle [Sw]

         Abraham – Die Blume von Hawaii: Kann nicht küssen ohne Liebe [Sw]

 

Jan. 14 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – F. Winter ▼

 

         Lindberg: Bagdad [Sw]

 

Aug. 08 – Stockholm, Fenixpalatset – H. Bingang ▼

 

         Heymann – Es führt kein andrer Weg zur Seligkeit [Sw]

         Ammandt – Slut dina ögon [Sw]

 

Aug. 10 – Stockholm, Fenixpalatset – H. Bingang ▼

 

         Carsten – Varje litet ord av kärlek [Sw]

         Sahlberg – Aj, aj, aj du [Sw]

         Heymann – Es führt kein andrer Weg zur Seligkeit [Sw], with piano

 

Sep. 01 – Stockholm, Fenixpalatset – H. von Eichwald ▼

 

         Lesso-Valerio – Warum [Sw]

 

 

Sep. 09 – Copenhagen – J. Warny

 

         Ammandt – Slut dina ögon [Sw]

         Kálmán – Das Veilchen vom Montmartre: Heut' nacht hab' ich [Sw]

 

Nov. 24 – Stockholm, Fenixpalatset – H. Bingang ▼

 

         Heymann – Irgendwo auf der Welt [Sw]

 

These recordings were the first ones Björling made as a tenor outside Sweden. The voice is better than in the recordings made in January 1932, problems in the lower register are, however, still evident. The final acuti of the Kálmán piece are a bit forceful.

 

 

1933

Feb. 02 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – F. Andersson ▼

 

         Baumann – Läppar som le [Sw]

 

 

Mar. 12 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Laparra – L'illustre Fragona: Mélancolique tombe le soir [Sw]

         Borodin – Knjaz Igor: Medlenno den ugasal [Sw], take one – take two

         Dahl – Bachanal [Sw]

         Nyblom – Brinnande gula flod [Sw]

 

Apr. 11 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Almroth – Tangoflickan [Sw]

         Trad.: Ochi chernye [Sw]

 

Jun. 01 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – H. Meissner

 

         Dahl – Bachanal [Sw]

         Nyblom – Brinnande gula flod [Sw]

         Almroth: Tangoflickan [Sw]

 

Aug. 10 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – G. Säfbom ▼

 

         Tognarelli – Alt hvad der er dejligt [Sw]

         Tilling – Kanske att vi[Sw]

         Reidarson – Sommerens melodi [Sw]

 

Sep. 13 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Bode – Min längtan är du [Sw]

         Handberg-Jørgensen – Klovnens Tango [Sw]

 

Oct. 10 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Jurmann & Kaper – Ninon [Sw]

         Gyldmark – Gitarren klinger [Sw]

          

Oct. 10 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – S. Wladimir ▼

 

         Sylvain – Dina blåa ögon lova mer an dina röda läppar ger [Sw]

         Le Beau – Kärlekens sång

 

Oct. 25 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – S. Wladimir

 

         Sylvain – Säg att du evig [Sw]

         Armand – Var det en dröm [Sw], two issued takes

 

For the first time since September 1930, Björling recorded an operatic aria (from Bordin's "Price Igor"). The day before this recording, Björling had made his debut in the role of Vladimir in Borodin's opera at the Royal Opera House, Stockholm. While the middle register is radiant and the high register is improved, the lower is still immature.

In an unissued take of Nybloms Brinnande gula flod, Björling cracked in a high note towards the end. Also in the issued take, Björling is on the verge of cracking on the very same note.

 

 

1934

Mar. 03 – Stockholm – N. Grevillius

 

         Verdi – Il trovatore: Di quella pira [Sw]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: O Lola c'hai di latti [Sw]

 

Björling was now quickly moving into spinto repertoire. At the Royal Opera, he sang the leading tenor parts in "La bohème", "Il tabarro", "Ballo un maschera", "Fanal" (by Atterberg) and "La fanciulla del West". He did not sing the role of Manrico but recorded the "Pira", transposed down by one half step. "Cavalleria rusticana" was not yet a part of his active repertoire either. He sings the difficult "Siciliana" with a careful (and a bit scratchy) voice and the typical melancholy that suits the piece very well. It is impressive how well he masters the Mascagni piece without forcing the voice. An interesting comparison can be made between this early Björling record and a record by Gigli, made in 1940 under Mascagni's direction where the great Gigli struggles with the uncomfortable tessitura of the piece.

 

1935

Mar. 04 – Stockholm – N. Grevillius

 

         Atterberg – Fanal: I männer över lag och rätt [Sw]

         Puccini – La fanciulla del West: Ch'ella mi creda [Sw]

 

Björling had made his debut in the role of Dick Johnson in December 1934. On this record, he is not yet the spinto required for the role. However, he sings the piece with no difficulty, with clear, romantic and melancholic tone. The high B flats demonstrate perfectly centered and well-projected acuti. The voice, probably due to the natural development within a busy schedule at the Royal Opera House, sounds much more mature than in 1933. The voice is more manly, and the boyishness is about to disappear.

May 01 – Stockholm – S. Wladimir

 

         Christgau – Bryllupsvalsen [Sw]

         Enders – Lilla prinsessa [Sw]

 

 

 

1936

Oct. 07 – Stockholm – N. Grevillius

 

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Sw]

         Trad.: Ack Värmeland, du sköna [Sw]

         Trad.: Allt under himmelens fäste [Sw]

 

During 1935, Björling had sung the leading tenor parts in "Faust", "Fanciulla del West", "Traviata", "Tosca", "Cavalleria rusticana", Fidelio", "Don Giovanni", "Cavalieri di Ekebù", "La bohème" and "Aida" (role debut: October 12, 1935). In 1936, he added among others "Pagliacci", "Damnation de Faust" and "Il trovatore" to his repertoire.

The recordings Björling made in October 1936 are some of the best he ever made. Suddenly, the voice is perfectly balanced; the sound is homogeneous from bottom to top. The weaknesses in the low register and the immature sound had completely disappeared: the sound is mature and youthful.The phrasing is calm, the breath control superior and the melancholic expression is a perfect match with the songs. In addition, the arrangements of "Ack Värmeland" and "Allt under himmelens fäste" had been done particularly well.

 

Oct. 08 – Stockholm – N. Grevillius

 

         Schrader – I de lyse næl;tter [Sw]

         Rimskij Korsakov – Sadko: Ne shchest almazov [Sw]

         Pérez-Freire – Ay ay ay [Sw]

 

 

Dec. 01 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         Verdi – Aida: Se quel guerrier… Celeste Aida [It]

 

These recordings are particularly interesting because they are Björling's first recordings of arias from his repertoire sung in the original Italian. The record company apparantly now considered Björling ready for the international market, and arias had to be recorded in the original language. It is clear, however, that Björling had learned the language phonetically and that he had not learned to speak Italian. The diction is a catastrophe.

The singing, on the other hand, is flawless. The aria from la Bohème is sung in the original key with a tone that is wonderfully suited for Rodolfo and with a totally effortless and beautiful high C. The aria from Aida shows that Björling was capable of adding a heroic quality to his sound and how he was able to switch between heroic attack and a truly lyric sound – an ability that is so beneficial for the operas of Giuseppe Verdi.

 

Dec. 03 – Stockholm, Concert Hall, N. Grevillius

 

         Verdi – Rigoletto: La donna è mobile [It]

         Puccini – Tosca: Recondita armonia [It]

 

 

Also these recordings are exceptional, except for the Italian. It is interesting to compare this version of the "Rigoletto"- aria to the one from 1933 regarding Björling's positive development both as a singer and as a musician. The "Recondita armonia" of this session was chosen by Aki Kaurismäki together with the "Ch'ella mi creda" from 1937for the soundtrack of his movie "Lights in the dusk".

 

1937

Jan. 26 – Stockholm – N. Grevillius

 

         Stenhammar – Ett Folk: Sverige [Sw]

         Althén – Land, du välsignade [Sw]

 

Here, Björling introduced two pieces that should become some sort of standard pieces of his future recital repertoire. Both songs are of patriotic contents and of both heroic and lyric tone. Björling sings them with his full operatic voice and both are executed with perfection. Björling is much more at ease when singing in his mother tongue and is, naturally, much more able to add nuances to his interpretation.

As to his vocal development, it is interesting to observe how exceptionally well the lower register now is formed.

Apr. 22 – Stockholm – N. Grevillius

 

         Caruso – Dream of long ago [Sw]

         Widestedt – Sjung din hela längtan ut[Sw]

 

 

Sep. 03 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Ponchielli – La Gioconda: Cielo e mar [It]

         Puccini – La fanciulla del West: Ch'ella mi creda [It]

         Geehl – For you alone [Eng]

 

Sep. 04 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Meyerbeer – L'Africaine: Ô Paradis [It]

         Puccini – Tosca: E lucevan le stelle [It]

         Friml – The Vagabond King: Only a rose [Eng]

 

Sep. 05 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Di Capua – O sole mio [It]

         Tosti – Ideale [It]

 

All of these records from September 1937 present Björling in flawless voice. The recordings of the heavier arias "Ch'ella mi creda" and "Cielo e mar" prove that Björling successfully had developped into a spinto tenor with a very homogenous register, body and brilliant acuti. Along with his debut in the US, Björling recorded a few songs in English language (which was far from perfect but still much better than his Italian was).

Unfortunately, Björling's language skills still left a lot to desire. Since he probably learned the texts phonetically, i.e. imitating the sound and reproducing what he thought sounded right, he seemed to have been relatively resistant to corrections. He seemed to have used the images of the "right sound" he had created in his mind without the desire to improve or correct them. In some cases, Björling even managed to disimprove his pronunciation when moving from Swedish to Italian. In the Swedish "Ch'ella mi creda" from 1935, he correctly sings "Minni" – in the Italian version, he went over to sing "Minnä", and he never changed it again.

Nevertheless, the recordings became classics, especially the aria from la "Fanciulla del West", in spite of the Italian and the slight crack on the last high note.

 

1938

Apr. 28 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         J. Strauß – Der Zigeunerbaron: Wer uns getraut [Sw ]

with Hjördis Schymberg, not issued

         Prince Gustaf – Sjung om studentens lyckliga dag [Sw]

with double male quartet

         Millöcker – Der Bettelstudent: Ich hab' kein Geld [Sw], not issued

 

May 30 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         J. Strauß – Der Zigeunerbaron: Wer uns getraut [Sw ]

with Hjördis Schymberg, two issued takes

         Millöcker – Der Bettelstudent: Ich hab' kein Geld [Sw], take one – take two

         Widestedt – Nämner du Svergie [Sw]

 

May 31 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Offenbach – La belle Hélène: Au mont Ida [Sw], take one – take two

         Millöcker – Der Bettelstudent: Ich setz' den Fall [Sw]

with Hjördis Schymberg

 

The operetta recordings from the April/May sessions are mostly interesting for the Millöcker and Offenbach pieces, which are both very demanding. The Swedish "Au mont Ida" became an instant classic in spite of the language. The series of high B flats that Björling sings with effortless, accurate attacks and with beautiful sound is incomparable. The Millöcker piece ends with a high D flat, which is no problem for Björling. Two takes were recorded, and he hits the highest note prefectly in both takes.

Aug. 10 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Massenet – Manon: En fermant les yeux [Fr]

         Bizet – Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais [Fr]

 

These are Björling's first records in French. The French is not good, but for some reason not quite as bad as the Italian. The singing, especially in the aria from Manon, is excellent.

 

Oct. 12 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Rossini – Stabat mater: Cuius animam [Lt], take one – take two

         Verdi – Messa da Requiem: Ingemisco [Lt]

         Verdi – Il trovatore: Ah si, ben mio [It]

         Verdi – Il trovatore: Di quella pira [It]

 

Rossini's "Cuius animam" is another piece of which two separate takes were issued and where Björling sings two stunning high D flats. These high notes have body, heft and an unusually beautiful sound for a tenor sound that high. The versions of "Cuius animam" are some of the best ever recorded.

Similarly good is the "Ingemisco" – another piece that would become a standart piece of Björling's recital repertoire. The calm and superior phrasing surely is unique. Few tenors could ascend to the first "mihi quoque" with such solemnity and sing the high B flat with such radiant brilliance. The rest is sung with total control and authority, beautiful pianissimi and musically impeccable.

The pieces from "Il Trovatore" (the "Pira" this time in key) did somehow not meet the expectations and were re-recorded in July 1939.

 

1939

Jul. 14 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Flotow – Martha: Ach, so fromm [It]

         Gounod – Faust: Salut, demeure chaste et pure [Fr]

 

Björling sounds a bit tired and uninspired in this session. The aria from "Faust" is sung in the original key and with no difficulty on the top note.

 

Jul. 15 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Verdi – Il trovatore: Ah si, ben mio [It]

         Verdi – Il trovatore: Di quella pira [It]

 

 

These two selections from Il trovatore are the ones usually featured on Björling albums – which is a bit odd as the 1938 recordings of the same pieces seem to be superior. Here, Björling sounds less inspired and, just as in the recordings from July, 14 a bit tired.

 

Jul. 15 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – H. Ebert, piano

 

         R. Strauss – Morgen [Ger]

         R. Strauss – Cäcilie [Ger]

         Beethoven – Adelaide [Ger]

 

Out of the recordings made in 1939, these are by far the best. Björling, now probably instructed by a language coach, was a great interpreter of Lieder, especially of the ones by Richard Strauss, which he frequently sang in recitals. Harry Ebert is one of the better pianists Björlings worked with and it is a lucky coincidence that he was the one chosen for making the records.

 

1940

Jan. 30 – New York, Manhattan Center – H. Ebert, piano

 

         Schubert – An Sylvia [Ger]

         Schubert – Ständchen [Ger]

         Schubert – An die Leier [Ger]

         Schubert – Die böse Farbe [Ger]

         Schubert – Frühlingsglaube [Ger]

         Schubert – Wandrers Nachtlied [Ger]

         Sibelius – Svarta rosor [Sw]

 

Mar. 01 – New York, Manhattan Center – H. Ebert, piano

 

         Sjögren – Ich möchte schweben [Ger]

         Sibelius – Säv, säv, susa [Sw]

         Alfvén – Skogen sover [Sw]

         Eklöf – Morgon [Sw]

         Schubert – Wandrers Nachtlied [Ger]

 

What has been said about the 1939 song recordings could be said about these two sessions. The best renditions are the Sibelius selections sung in Swedish and the pieces by Sjögren and Alfvén. They had all been part of his teacher John Forsell's repertoire. The Schubert selections are not as convinving as the rest.

 

1941

Jun. 16 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Verdi – Un ballo in maschera: Di' tu, se fedele [It], not issued

         Verdi – Rigoletto: Questa o quella [It]

 

Jun. 17 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Puccini – La bohème: O soave fanciulla [It]

with Hjördis Schymberg, two issued takes

         Verdi – Rigoletto: È il sol dell'anima [It]

with Hjördis Schymberg, two issued takes

 

Vocally, Björling was in good shape when he recorded the aria and scene from "Rigoletto" and the duet from "La bohème". The singing is, however, quite unidiomatic by both singers who do not seem to be comfortable with the Italian language. The lack naturally shows stronger in the duet from "La Bohéme". Hjördis Schymberg might have been a capable Violetta – Mimì she was not.

 

1944

Mar. 27 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Giordano – Andrea Chénier: Come un bel dì [It]

         Giordano – Fedora: Amor ti vieta [It]

         Puccini – Turandot: Nessun dorma [It]

         Leoncavallo – Pagliacci: Vesti la giubba [It]

         Verdi – Rigoletto: Questa o quella [It]

         Leoncavallo – Mattinata [It]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma quel vino [It], two issued takes

         Verdi – Un ballo in maschera: Di' tu se fedele [It]

 

Many of these recordings have become classic Björling items that appeared and keep appearing either on Björling albums or on compilations of historical tenors where a piece sung by Björling has to be included. Some arias ("Andrea Chénier", "Fedora") are taken from operas Björling never sang on stage.

Again, Björling was in very good vocal shape when he recorded these items. The arias are sung with great musical accuracy throughout. The aria from "Pagliacci" had been recorded in Swedish before and appearad here for the first time in Italian. The "Addio alla madre" should become one of Björling's favourite and most performed arias. The phrasing in the "Pagliacci"- aria is excellent, especially in the final "ridi Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto", and the "Ballo"- aria is sung with accuracy and passion. Outstanding is Leoncavallo's "Mattinata", in spite of the defective Italian. The interpolated high B in the end is flawless in sound and timing.

A big drawback is, once again, Björling's Italian. It is a mystery how Björling could sing "soeta" instead of "poeta" ("Andrea Chénier") or "sholdato" ("Cavalleria") without being corrected and without ever changing it. Particularly annoying is also his refusal to make a clean /t∫/-sound (like in "celeste"). Björling stubbornly sings /∫/ ("sheleste Aida").

 

 

Apr. 05 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – S. Wladimir

 

         Nordqvist – Bön i ofredstid [Sw]

         Nordqvist – Bisp Thomas' frihetssång [Sw]

 

 

 

This interesting choice is without doubt connected directly to the development of the war in Europe. The sad prayer ("Bön i ofredstid") is a very good song for Björling's melancholic voice to which the heroic "Bisp Thomas' song of freedom" creates a nice contrast.

1945

Sep. 06 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Gounod – Roméo et Juliette: Ah, lève-toi, soleil [Fr]

         Massenet – Manon: Ah! fuyez, douce image [Fr]

 

Sep. 07 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Donizetti – L'elisir d'amore: Una furtiva lagrima [It]

         Bizet – Les pêcheurs de perles: Je crois entendre encore [Fr]

 

The recordings from September 1945 are oddities – not because of the singing itself but partly because of the choice of arias. While Roméo and Des Grieux were part of Björling's repertoire, Nemorino and Nadir were, at least in 1945, in the opposite direction of where Björling's development was going.

The arias from "Roméo et Juliette" and "Manon" are fine, even though they sound much less squillante than the recordings made between 1936 and 1939. It is hard to tell if this has to do with the recording technique or a vocal disposition. The big aria from "Manon" is very well sung, passionate and technically flawless – only the French is poor (he constantly sings "fouyez", to pick only one particularly annoying mistake).

For the Donizetti and Bizet arias, Björling's voice is already too heavy. He is not a convincing Nemorino, he sounds distant and uninterested. The delicate tessitura is slightly too high for the spinto into which he had developped. He is not able to sing the passaggio parts with the ease and sweetness required for the role. Nadir's aria, even though it is beautifully sung, is transposed down a whole note and is much too dramatic.

1947

Nov. 27 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Rachmaninov – V molchan i nochi taynoy [Eng]

         Rachmaninov – Siren [Eng]

         Cilea – L'arlesiana: È la solita storia [It]

         Donizetti – L'elisir d'amore: Una furtiva lagrima [It], not issued

 

Between 1945 and 1947, Björling's voice had taken another big step towards becoming a full-scale spinto tenor. In the recordings from November 1947, he sounds considerably heavier and older than in 1945. He recorded two of the Rachmaninov-songs that he from now on would use frequently in recitals, and, for the first time, the aria from "L'arlesiana". For the latter, Björling's voice sounds already a bit overweight and simply too mature. The attack on the high B natural in the end hits right in the center and is deliverd razor sharp. The text is changed from "mi fai tanto male" into "mi fai tanto amare".

1948

Sep. 07 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Foster – Jeannie with the light brown hair [Eng], two issued takes

         d'Hardelot – Because [Eng], two issued takes

 

Sep. 15 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Puccini – Manon Lescaut: Donna non vidi mai [It] , two issued takes

         Macagni – Cavalleria rusticana: O Lola ch'ai di latti [It], two issued takes

 

In these takes, Björling's voice has a clear hint of tiredness. Even though he goes through the two tremendously difficult pieces from "Manon Lescaut" and "Cavalleria rusticana" without any problems, the voice is not as clear as it had been a few years ago.

 

1949

Aug. 10 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Gounod – Roméo et Juliette: Ange adorable [Fr]

with Anna Lisa Björling

         Puccini – La bohème: O soave fanciulla [It] with Anna Lisa Björling

 

Aug. 11 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Tosti – L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra [It]

         Godard – Jocelyn: Cachés dans cet asile [Eng]

 

The record of Tosti's "L'alba separa", a song that would become one of Björling's favourites, shows Björling's new affinity with the dramatic grand geste. Listening to the first few bars of his singing demonstrates a line of approach that would fit a dramatic tenor more than a spinto. Here might be a reason for the less focused sound (as a consequence of overstraining) that could be observed in the previous recording session as well as in this one when Björling takes on lighter and higher repertoire (La bohème, Roméo et Juliette).

The recordings of the duets are fine but do not shine as brightly as the ones made previously. Anna-Lisa Björling's soprano does not add favourably. As a singer, she was not on the same level as her husband.

 

1950

Sep. 12 – Stockholm, Royal Academy of Music – N. Grevillius

 

         Puccini – Tosca: E lucevan le stelle [It]

         Puccini – Tosca: Recondita armonia [It]

 

Sep. 19 – Stockholm, Royal Academy of Music – N. Grevillius

 

         Bizet – Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais [Fr]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma, quel vino [It]

 

Björling now appears as a real spinto tenor. The voice is dark, chesty and rougher than before.

 

Nov. 30 – New York, Manhattan Center – R. Cellini

 

         Verdi – Don Carlo: Io l'ho perduta… Dio che nell'alma [It]

with Robert Merrill, Emil Markov

 

In 1949, Björling had signed an exclusive contract with RCA, and this recording is one of the first made directly on tape. "Don Carlo" was the role in which Björling had given his role debut on November 6, 1950 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. RCA would in the following years cast Björling first of all together with singers that were famous in the US.

Due to the high tessitura of the role of Don Carlo, Björling's voice appears less dark compared to the recordings of the "Tosca"- arias in September 1950. The voice sounds fresh and agile. The high notes, however, have a sharp quality and sound slightly forced and over-metallic. The latter could be a side effect of the still immature tape recording technique. It is during these first years of his collaboration with RCA when the sound and image of Björling's "steely", "ice-cold" voice was born.

Musically, Björling delivers an impeccable performance. Robert Merrill has a pleasant warm voice and sings musically correct but unfortunately, he does not know how to shade. His singing is monotonous and, just as it is the case with Björling, unidiomatic. Merrill's Italian is not as bad as Björling's but cannot be understood unless one knows the libretto.

 

1951

Jan. 03 – New York, Manhattan center – R. Cellini

 

         Verdi – Otello: O mostruosa colpa… Si pel ciel [It]

with Robert Merrill , two issued takes

         Puccini – La bohème: In un coupé… O Mimì tu più non torni [It]

with Robert Merrill

         Verdi – La forza del destino: Solenne in quest'ora [It]

with Robert Merrill

         Bizet – Les pêcheurs de perles: Au fond du temple saint [Fr]

with Robert Merrill

 

Jan. 13 – New York, Manhattan center – R. Cellini

 

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         Verdi – Aida: Se quel guerrier… Celeste Aida [It]

         Ponchielli – La Gioconda: Cielo e mar [It]

 

Mar. 09 – New York, Manhattan center – R. Cellini

 

         Meyerbeer – L'Africaine: Ô Paradis [It]

         Gounod – Faust: Salut, demeure chaste et pure [Fr]

         Leoncavallo – Pagliacci: Vesti la giubba [It]

 

The recording sessions from 1951 are similar to Björling's first RCA recording from 1950. The voice has a great spinto quality and a certain harshness and hardness in the upper register. The recording of the Otello duet is another oddity in the Björling discography. While Björling's energy and temper might have fitted the role of Otello, the timbre and the nature of his voice were diametrically opposed.

The duets from "La bohème" and "Les Pêcheurs de perles" were, in spite of being vocally much lighter, recorded on the same day as the Verdi pieces. While Björling managed to modulate and lighten his voice, Merrill's singing remained monotonous. His Iago sounds like his Don Carlo de Vargas, his Marcello sounds like his Zurga, and his Zurga like his Iago.

The reason for why Björling again recorded many of the arias he already had recorded before was probably the improved recording technique. Vocally, the recordings made between 1936 and 1944 were superior.

 

1952

Apr. 11 – New York, Manhattan center – F. Schauwecker, piano

 

         Grieg – En svane [Nor]

         Grieg – En drøm [Nor]

         Brahms – Die Mainacht [Ger]

         R. Strauss – Ständchen [Ger]

         R. Strauss – Morgen [Ger]

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Sw]

         Schubert – Die Allmacht [Ger]

         Schubert – Wandrers Nachtlied [Ger]

         Sibelius – Svarta rosor [Sw]

         Liszt – Es muss ein Wunderbares sein [Ger]

         Wolf – Verborgenheit [Ger]

         Rachmaninov – Siren [Eng]

         Tosti – Ideale [It]

         Schubert – Ständchen [Ger]

         Schubert – Die böse Farbe [Ger]

         Schubert – Die Forelle [Ger]

 

 

Here, Björling's voice still sounds a bit rough, even though a program of songs sounds like a step back, especially when thinking about the Otello experiment. Björling clearly has slight problems handling the voice in the lyric and piano-pianissimo parts of the songs. The voice sounds a bit rough and stiff – a clear sign of overstrain.

 

Nov. 21 – London, HMV Studio – I. Newton, piano

 

         Speaks – Sylvia [Eng]

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Eng]

         Campbell-Tipton – A spirit flower [Eng]

         Beach – Ah, love, but a day [Eng]

 

These recordings, made by EMI in London, have a dinstinctively different sound from the RCA recordings made the same year. The EMI recordings have a softer and warmer sound that makes Björling's voice sound less hard and harsh (or it is the other way around and the RCA recordings made Björling's voice harsher than it really was). Whatever the reason might be, the songs recorded with Ivon Newton are of higher quality than the ones recorded in New York. Björling's voice is clearly still a spinto voice, but much more pleasant and less "steely". In Tonerna, he succeeds in singing a beautiful pianissimo A flat. The voice shows no sign of wear.

 

1953

Sep. 30 – Stockholm, Royal Academy of Music – B. Bokstedt

 

         Nordqvist – Till havs [Sw]

         Salén – Sången til havet [Sw]

         Salén – Visa kring slånblom [Sw]

         Peterson Berger – Jungfrun under lind [Sw]

 

The years 1953-1955 usually are associated with an alleged vocal crisis. It seems reasonable to assume that the idea of Björling having a vocal crisis arose because of the unfavourable sound of many of the RCA recordings of those years, because the recordings made in Stockholm show Björling in fantastic shape. The dramatic "Till havs" is energetic, fresh, with no hint of tiredness. The voice is focused and flexible and on a level comparable to his golden era (1936-1939).

1957

Jan. 22 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Flotow – Martha: Ach so fromm [It]

         Söderman – Kung Heimar och Aslög [Sw]

         Chaikovskij – Evgenij Onegin: Kuda kuda [Sw]

 

Jan. 23 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Donizetti – L'elisir d'amore: Una furtiva lagrima [It], two issued takes

         Giordano – Andrea Chénier: Come un bel dì di maggio [It]

         Borodin – Knjaz Igor: Medlenno den ugasal [Sw]

 

These recordings are not among Björling's best. The voice sounds RCA-typically harsh and forced and over-metallic. For Lenski, Nemorino and Lionel, the voice is much too hard and too spinto-like. The piece by Söderman, which normally would require a heldentenor, is fine, but the recording makes Björling's voice sound very hard. Chénier, on the other hand, is maybe too dramatic for Björling who seems to force his voice.

 

Sep. 07 – Florence, Teatro Comunale – A. Erede

 

         Ponchielli – La Gioconda: Cielo e mar [It]

         Puccini – La fanciulla del West: Ch'ella mi creda [It]

         Giordano – Fedora: Amor ti vieta [It]

         Cilea – L'arlesiana: È la solita storia del pastore [It]

         Verdi – Un ballo in maschera: Di' tu, se fedele [It]

         Puccini – Manon Lescaut: Tra voi belle [It]

 

In these recordings made by Decca on the occasion of the recording of "Cavalleria rusticana" in Florence, Björling's voice sounds a bit less harsh. The "Ch'ella mi creda" is conducted very slowly by Alberto Erede but sung in a flawless legato and slightly improved Italian (except for "Minnä", Björling's old quirk). The "Lamento di Federico" (also here the Italian is slightly better than in earlier recordings) is a piece that requires a youthful sound and a flexibility that Björling's voice did not possess anymore. The high B natural is hit with no problems but it sounds forced, almost brutal and too metallic. Interesting is the recording of the "Ballo"- aria: Björling sings the original version with the low C, and for the first time, he pronounces the /t∫/-sound correctly. The acuti are powerful, but sound a bit harsh.

The recording of "Tra voi belle" is charming as Björling does not force and sings with a lighter approach. Still, it remains a mystery how Alan Blyth could write how these recordings show "the aristocratic finesse of Martinelli combined with much of the tonal warmth and glow of Caruso".

Sep. 25 – Stockholm, Europafilm Studio – N. Grevillius

 

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Sw]

         Althén – Land du välsignade [Sw]

         Stenhammar – Ett folk: Sverige [Sw]

         Peterson Berger – När jag för mig själv [Sw]

         Peterson Berger – Blad skogens höga [Sw]

 

 

1959

Feb. 08 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Söderman – Trollsjön [Sw]

         Beethoven – Die Ehre Gottes [Sw]

         Adam – Cantique de Noël [Sw]

         Sibelius – Demanten på marssnön [Sw]

         Sibelius – Säv säv susa [Sw]

         Körling – Aftonstämning [Sw]

         Alfvén – Så tag mit hjerte [Dan]

         Alfvén – Jag längtar dig [Sw]

 

 

1960

Jun. 19 – Vienna, Sofiensaal – F. Reiner (?)

 

         Lehar – Das Land des Lächelns: Dein ist mein ganzes Herz [Sw/Ger]

 

 

 

b) Complete Operas (all sung in original language)

 

1952

Feb. 22- Mar. 30 – New York, Manhattan Center

 

Verdi – IL TROVATORE

 

Jussi Björling (Manrico)

Zinka Milanov (Leonora)

Leonard Warren (Di Luna)

Fedora Barbieri (Azucena)

Paul Franke (Ruiz)

Nicola Moscona (Ferrando)

RCA Victor Orchestra and Chorus

Renato Cellini

 

Excerpts:

Deserto sulla terra

Manrico! Che?... Di quella pira

 

Björling's first complete opera recording is not one of his best. Here, the beginning strain and the harshness in his voice are enforced by the metallic, dry and shallow sound of the recording (the "Pagliacci"/"Cavalleria" from 1953 will be even worse in this regard). Björling is a musically correct Manrico and sings his Pira in key, even though the high Cs are hit with such speed and harshness that they don't seem to fit with the rest of the piece. The versions he had sung in 1938 and 1939 were musically not as accurate but more homogenous and more pleasant to listen to. Björling's voice and expression were not very well suited for the role of Manrico either: he sounds cold and unconcerned.

The rest of the cast does not add favourably. It is one of the great mistakes of RCA's recording policy during the 1950s to have used Zinka Milanov and Leonard Warren for almost all of their major recording projects. Zinka Milanov was a musically mediocre, unreliable and very inaccurate singer. Her Italian diction was poor and her phrasing and expression were very unidiomatic. Leonard Warren had a voice of great power but of a similar unitalianate expression and style. His strong vibrato, often on the verge of a wobble, is an additional disturbing element. Nicola Moscona and Fedora Barbieri add some, but not enough italianità to this "Trovatore".

The conductor Cellini remains rather pale, because the orchestra was placed somewhere in the background of the overall sound picture; the voices are the dominating elements. Since the voices were not a first class choice for this particular opera and since they were not captured particularly well (to put it mildly), this recording does not rank among the better commercial recordings of "Il trovatore" made during the 1950s. The two versions from 1956 (Decca and EMI) are superior in matter of cast and sound.

 

1953

Jan. 07-Feb. 01 – New York, Manhattan Center

 

Mascagni – CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

 

Jussi Björling (Turiddu)

Zinka Milanov (Santuzza)

Robert Merrill (Alfio)

Margaret Roggero (Mamma Lucia)

Carol Smith (Lola)

RCA Victor Orchestra and Chorus

Renato Cellini

 

Leoncavallo – PAGLIACCI

 

Jussi Björling (Canio)

Victoria de los Angeles (Nedda)

Leonard Warren (Tonio)

Robert Merrill (Silvio)

Paul Franke (Beppe)

RCA Victor Orchestra and Chorus

Renato Cellini

 

Excerpts:

Vesti la giubba

These recordings are not good. The sound is sharp, thin and distorted, and again, the orchestra is far in the background, averting a homogeneous sound picture. Björling's voice is metallic, dramatic and harsh. Zinka Milanov is an unnuanced and at times vulgar Santuzza, and the role of Alfio is too dramatic for Robert Merrill. Victoria de los Angeles is a pale Nedda, only Leonard Warren is a good choice for Tonio if you can deal with his overflowing vibrato and mediocre Italian. His prologue is the highlight of this "Cavalleria"/"Pagliacci" set.

Again, among the sets issued during the 1950s, this one would not be the one to choose. The cast of the 1952 CETRA release (Simionato, Braschi, Gavazzi, Bergonzi) was much more italianate and exciting. The cast and the sound of the EMI version of 1953 (Callas, Di Stefano, Gobbi, Panerai, Serafin) were excellent and superior.

 

 

1954

Jul.11-Jul. 17 – Rome, Teatro dell'Opera

 

Puccini – MANON LESCAUT

 

Jussi Björling (Renato Des Grieux)

Licia Albanese (Manon)

Mario Carlin (Edmondo)

Robert Merrill (Lescaut)

Franco Calabrese (Geronte)

Enrico Campi (Capitano)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro dell'Opera

Ionel Perlea

 

Excerpts:

Donna non vidi mai

Ah, Manon, mi tradisce – finale act 2

 

This is a good, solid recording. The sound is improved and not as sharp and distorted as in 1953, but it is evident that RCA had not yet found a way of recording Björling's voice properly. Björling's voice and style is well suited for Des Grieux, and he does not sound as unconcerned or distant as he did when he recorded the 1952 "Trovatore". It seems as if Björling had (similar to Carlo Bergonzi) the reputation of being a Verdi tenor while he actually was better suited for Puccini. The long phrases and legato lines, the romantic addiction and final despair are very well captured by Björling's singing. Licia Albanese is a charming Manon and Robert Merrill a capable Lescaut. Ionel Perlea was an underrated conductor whose controlled passion never gave way to vulgarity.

 

 

1955

Jul. 02-Jul. 13 – Rome, Teatro dell'Opera

 

Verdi – AIDA

 

Jussi Björling (Radames)

Zinka Milanov (Aida),

Leonard Warren (Amonasro),

Fedora Barbieri (Amneris),

Boris Christoff (Ramfis),

Plinio Clabassi (Il Re)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro dell'Opera

Ionel Perlea

 

Excerpts:

Ma dimmi… Tu, Amonasro!

La fatal pietra

 

This is another failed Björling-Milanov-Warren-project. While the sound certainly is better than in the recordings from 1952 and 1953, the quality of the singing has not changed. Björling sounds as if the whole story did not concern him. In this recording, it sounds as if role of Radames is borderline for him, and it can clearly be heard how he is forcing his voice in the more dramatic parts. His melancholic expression, however, does not fail to enthuse in the tomb scene, which is beautifully sung. Milanov is scandalous. She sings inaccurate, off-pitch and makes many musical mistakes. Sometimes, she skips words and even entire sentences and replaces them with single vowels. Warren's whiny, wobbly tone is not suited for the role of Amonasro. The entire ensemble (except for Fedora Barbieri and Plinio Clabassi) sing unidiomatic and with inadequate Italian diction.

It remains a mystery why many critics name this recording as a reference recording. Few recordings of Aida are as unidiomatic, musically inaccurate, unexciting and poorly casted as this one (only the 1950 RCA version under Toscanini with Herva Nelli and Richard Tucker comes close in this regard).

 

 

1956

Mar. 16-Apr. 06 – New York, Manhattan Center

 

Puccini – LA BOHÈME

 

Jussi Björling (Rodolfo)

Victoria de los Angeles (Mimì),

Robert Merrill (Marcello),

Lucine Amara (Musetta),

Giorgio Tozzi (Colline),

John Reardon (Schaunard),

Fernando Corena (Benoît)

William Nahr (Parpignol)

RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra and Chorus,

Sir Thomas Beecham

 

Excerpts:

Si può? Chi è là? Benoît!

Questa è Mimì, gaia fioraia

 

As to the capture of the voices and the blending of the voices with the orchestral sound, this recording shows a great improvement. The orchestra is now much more than just an accompanying factor – without being in the center of attention as it is the case with many recordings under von Karajan. The voices and the orchestra are blended in an almost ideal ratio.

Björling's voice is fresh and agile and without the strain he displayed on the Aida recording. Rodolfo was, after all, better suited to his vocal material and Puccini (as mentioned above) better suited to his temper and style. The sound engineers had finally found a way to record his voice without making it sound too harsh. The aria is sung in key, and the highest notes come without any problems and with much greater ease than for example Di Stefano's (EMI 1957). Merrill is a solid Marcello, pleasant sounding but pale in characterization. Tozzi is a fine Colline and Corena a very convincing Benoît. De los Angeles' voice is a bit dry, and her Mimì sounds a bit too mature to be believable.

The orchestra, led by Thomas Beecham, is a great support for the cast. Some tempi are exceptionally slow, but the lentezza is done with great love for the detail and reveals aspects of the score that normally are drowned in a too quick tempo. To conclude, one can say that this is one of the better commercial Bohèmes made during the 1950s and 1960s – if not the best.

 

Jun. 16-Jun. 28 – Rome, Teatro dell'Opera

 

Verdi – RIGOLETTO

 

Jussi Björling (Duca di Mantova)

Robert Merrill (Rigoletto),

Roberta Peters (Gilda),

Anna Maria Rota (Maddalena),

Giorgio Tozzi (Sparafucile)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro dell'Opera

Ionel Perlea

 

Excerpts:

Questa o quella

 

 

1956 was a good year for Björling. The "Rigoletto" is not as well recorded as the "Bohème", the sound quality equals the "Manon Lescaut" made two years earlier. Björling was not an ideal Duca – his voice sounds too mature and the melancholic and romantic timbre do not fit the Duca. However, he deliveres a solid performance with only slight signs of strain in the most demanding moments: the long duet with Gilda, the big aria ("Ella mi fu rapita") and the quartet of the last act. There obviously has been some editing and splicing that has been done rather carelessly. For example, the last high notes in the Duca's entrance aria were clearly mounted, and it can easily be heard.

Merrill is, as usual, a solid but not exciting performer. His voice is beautiful and warm, but his characterizations leaves a lot to desire. Rigoletto is borderline repertoire for him. He does not have the vocal means of a Tibbett, and he cannot act like Gobbi. Roberta Peters is a miscast. The voice sounds harsh and shrill in the top notes, and she is not able to add any nuance to the role.

Perlea gives an unobstrusive performance, not more and not less.

 

1957

Jul. 02-Jul. 18 – Rome, Teatro dell'Opera

 

Puccini – TOSCA

 

Jussi Björling (Mario Cavaradossi)

Zinka Milanov (Tosca),

Leonard Warren (Scarpia),

Fernando Corena (Sagrestano),

Mario Carlin (Spoletta)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro dell'Opera

Erich Leinsdorf

 

Excerpts:

Qual occhio al mondo

 

This "Tosca" is another RCA production that is nothing more than average. Björling is in good shape and proves one more time that he was better in Puccini roles. He has no problems even with the most demanding parts of the role. Only the highest notes might have a trace of harshness. His great legato culture and noblesse are definitely an asset for the role of Cavaradossi. Björling, however, is much more controlled and less exciting than in his live recordings of the same role.

Zinka Milanov is many years past her prime, in doubtful vocal shape and delivers the usual inaccurate and careless performance. Her Italian is outrageous. Zinka Milano is a Tosca that reminds of a parody. Luckily, this was the last of Björling's opera recordings in which Milanov participated. A little bit better: Leonard Warren as Scarpia. The shaky vibrato, however, makes this chief of police sound as if he was walking barefoot over glowing charcoil – Warren's Scarpia is a salacious and nervous wreck. The sound quality is about on the same level as the 1956 Rigoletto. Leinsdorf's conducting is sterile.

 

Sep. 01-Sep.07 – Florence, Teatro Comunale

 

Mascagni – CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

 

Jussi Björling (Turiddu)

Renata Tebaldi (Santuzza),

Ettore Bastianini (Alfio),

Lucia Danieli (Lola),

Rina Corsi (Mamma Lucia)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

Alberto Erede

 

Excerpt:

Ah lo vedi! No, no, Turiddu, rimani ancora!

 

This recording is a result of a joint venture of RCA and Decca and was realized by Decca at the Maggio Musicale in Florence. The cast is a Decca-cast – the usual Milanov and Warren were replaced by the Italian stars Renata Tebaldi and Ettore Bastianini. The sound quality is much better than in the RCA releases; the sound is warm and soft, and the voices do not sound harsh.

Björling's voice sounds a bit worn and tired in this recording. This does not mean that he had problems singing the role of Turiddu; he is in full control. In the end of the siciliana, he inserts a pianissimo that shows how intact his voice really was and that even an aria as difficult as the siciliana could not endanger him. The voice was, however, not as fresh and pure anymore. His characterization of Turiddu is very convincing; Björling's Turridu is sadistic and arrogant. Renata Tebaldi is a very credible Santuzza, and it certainly is refreshing to hear a spinto soprano in a role that Mascagni originally had written for a soprano and not for a mezzo-soprano. Ettore Bastianini is a very good Alfio, much more potent and present than Merrill in 1952. His juicy, black voice is a pleasure to listen to.

Erede conducts inconspicuously.

 

1959

Jul. 03-Jul. 11 – Rome, Teatro dell'Opera

 

Puccini – TURANDOT

 

Jussi Björling (Calaf)

Birgit Nilsson (Turandot),

Renata Tebaldi (Liù),

Alessio de Paolis (Altoum),

Giorgio Tozzi (Timur),

Piero De Palma (Pang),

Tommaso Frascati (Pong),

Mario Sereni (Ping),

Leonardo Monreale (Mandarin)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro dell'Opera,

Erich Leinsdorf

 

Excerpts:

Non piangere, Liù – finale act 1

Principessa di morte!

 

In this recording, Björling attempts the most dramatic of all tenor parts by Puccini, and the result can only be called a success. Recorded in the revolutionary new "Living Stereo", the sound picture is vivid, stereoscopic and well balanced. Björling's voice is fresh and powerful, and he sounds lively and dedicated. Calaf suited his voice very well because the role combines dramatic attack and melodious flow, coldness and intimate moments. With his voice, Björling is able to communicate great sadness (as in the moment of "Non piangere, Liù" and in the scene that follows) as well as a high level of cold blooded determination. He finds an equally cold counterpart in Birgit Nilsson who delivers a good performance (and includes the rarely performed aria "Del primo pianto"). The rest of the cast is excellent, only Renata Tebaldi seems a bit heavy and mature for the role of Liù.

Leinsdorf is much better here than in the Tosca of 1957. He conducts a dense performance full of drive. The short scene that follows Calaf's arioso in act one is wonderful not only because of the tempo and the good coordination but also because of the unusual piano: "Ah, per l'ultima volta…"

Among the studio recordings of "Turandot" made during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, this recording is one of the best. Only the interesting couple Del Monaco/Borkh (Decca 1959) can rival this production. Callas (EMI 1957) was not a good choice for Turandot, and Corelli (EMI 1966) seemed more in love with himself than with Turandot. The couple Pavarotti/Sutherland (Decca 1973) was a disaster.

 

Sep. 25-Oct. 11 – Roma, Teatro dell'Opera

Puccini – MADAMA BUTTERFLY

Jussi Björling (B.F.Pinkerton)

Victoria de los Angeles (Cio Cio San)

Miriam Pirazzini (Suzuki)

Mario Sereni (Sharpless)

Piero de Palma (Goro)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro dell'Opera

Gabriele Santini

 

Excerpts:

Dovunque al mondo

Vogliatemi bene

 

Pinkerton and Johnson are the most italianate roles Puccini has written for the tenor voice, and Björling was therefore an odd choice for the role of Pinkerton. Björling's Pinkerton does indeed not have much of what one might call Italian flair, but he has other qualities. Björling's Pinkerton is a cold, calculating and arrogant villain and therefore an interesting alternative to many a traditional interpretation. His voice was captured better in the "Turandot", here, he sounds harsh in the upper register which seems to have been problematic for him. In the duet, he takes the high option in the end and cracks. It is weird that Björling went for the high (and actually less beautiful) option even though he had problems singing it and it is even weirder that the crack was issued on the studio recording.

Victoria de los Angeles is not a good Butterfly. Nobody expects Butterfly to sound like "quidici anni", but de los Angeles sounds much too mature for the role. Her singing sounds uninspired and boring. She can't communicate the drama that moves Butterfly in act two and three. On top of that, she gives the impression that she does not care much about it either. The other parts are cast very well. Miriam Pirazzini is a solid Suzuki, Mario Sereni an excellent Sharpless. Piero de Palma has a voice almost too beautiful for Goro. Gabriele Santini was better in live performances. Here, he appears as uninspired as his female protagonist does.

1960

Jun. 12-Jun. 19 – Vienna, Sofiensaal

Verdi – MESSA DA REQUIEM

Jussi Björling, tenor

Leontyne Price, soprano

Giorgio Tozzi, bass

Rosalind Elias, mezzo soprano

Wiener Philharmoniker and Chorus Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde

Fritz Reiner

Excerpts:

Kyrie eleison

This is a very beautiful recording. The sound engineers (Decca) made a good job in capturing every single voice in the best possible way and in creating a good balance between the voices and the orchestra. It is good that such a good orchestra and chorus were chosen for this exceptionally demanding piece. Björling's voice and singing are transcendent. The purity of his sound and expression are perfect for the tenor part of this Messa da Requiem. In the young Leontyne Price, Giorgio Tozzi and Rosalind Elias, he has great partners. The colors of the individual voices are complementing each other very fortunately. Reiner conducts this Requiem in a typical American way: virtuoso, controlled and with all the dryness that an orchestra like The Vianna Philharmonic would permit. The result is a great record of ageless value.

 

 

 

II. Live recordings*

a) Single arias/duets/scenes/sonGS

*Most of the recordings presented in this section have been remastered for Historical Tenors. The available releases might be of different quality.

 

1936

Feb. 16 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius [not published]

 

         Hruby – Från Strauss till Lehár (operetta medley)

with Hjördis Schymberg, Nella Valdi and Gösta Kjellertz

This kind of program, a medley of operetta tunes, was very popular in Sweden. The dull and distant sound of this recording makes it hard to judge the voices and singing, but Björling's voice stands out both in beauty and brilliance.

1937

Apr. 08 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius [not published]

 

         Eklöf – Morgon [Sw]

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Sw]

         Althén – Land, du välsignade [Sw]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: O Lola [Sw]

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [Sw]

 

Aug. 14-Nov. 10 – Stockholm, Solna & Torö [Soundtrack recording for movie Fram för framgång] – N. Grevillius

 

         Rossini – La danza [Sw]

         Trad. – Hej dunkom [Sw]

         Dahl – Bachanal [Sw]

         Verdi – Un ballo in maschera: Di' tu, se fedele [Sw]

         Althén – Land, du välsignade

These are the earliest published live documents of Björling where he sings single arias and songs. The scenes of the movie that show Björling are of great interest because Björling does partly not mime. It features one of Björling's two only recording of Rossini's "La danza" which is sung in Swedish, just as all the other selections. The Rossini-piece is energetic, musically exceptionally correct, with a diction so flawless and idiomatic that it makes one forget that it is not Italian. The singing is impeccable. The other pieces are of the same quality. The Swedish drinking song "Hej dunkom" (sung with no accompaniment) ends in a fantastic high C that is sung with no effort at all. The recording of "Land du välsignade" was made outdoor at the Tivoli in Stockholm's Gröna Lund, a location where Björling gave many recitals during the 1950s.

 

Nov. 11 – Stockholm, SF Kungsholmen Studio [Soundtrack recording for movie John Ericsson]

 

         Trad. – Ack Värmeland, du sköna [Sw]

This is another very well sung performance of the song Björling had recorded commercially in 1936. The sound quality is inferior to the studio recording, and the arrangement of the song is closer to the traditional original. This version is sung higher (G-minor) than the studio recording (E-minor) and shortened.

 

Nov. 28 – New York, Carnegie Hall – E. Rapee

 

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         Verdi – Rigoletto: La donna è mobile [It]

         Verdi – Aida: Se quel guerrier... Celeste Aida [It]

         Althén – Land, du välsignade

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Bada Santuzza [Sw]

with Maria Jeritza

It is very positive that so many performances in the US were broadcast and recorded already during the 1930s. The recital from Novemver 28, 1937 was Björling's debut in the US, and for the first time, Björling can be heard singing a few arias in the original language. The aria from "La bohème" is sung in key, with ringing and effortless acuti. In spite of the defective Italian, it certainly is one of the best live recordings of this aria ever made. The aria from "Rigoletto" is sung just as effortlessly, with a flawless cadenza and a long B natural in the end. The duet from "Cavalleria rusticana" is sung in Swedish by Björling and in Italian by Maria Jeritza. These two singers certainly are an interesting combination, but unfortunately the end of the duet ("Bada! Dell'ira tua non mi curo") has been removed in this arrangement.

 

Dec. 05 – New York, Carnegie Hall – E. Rapee

         Puccini – Tosca: Recondita armonia[It]

         Meyerbeer – L'Africaine: Ô paradis [It]

         Verdi – La forza del destino: Solenne in quest'ora [It]

with Donald Dickson

         Gounod – Faust: Quittons ce lieu... Anges purs [Sw]

with Grace Moore, Donald Dickson

This is the second part of Björling's American debut. "Recondita armonia" was not an aria Björling would perform often in recitals, while the Meyerbeer-aria would soon become part of his standard repertoire. The other pieces were also rarely performed by Björling (he never sang "La Forza" on stage and only recorded the duet commercially), and he usually sang the aria from "Faust" and not the trio. The aria from "Tosca" is sung with great easy and brilliance. The voice seems to project exceptionally well. The voice, however, still sounds a bit too young and lyrical for Cavaradossi and was still better suited to Rodolfo or, as this recording shows, Faust. Grace Moore is a charming Marguerite and Donald Dickson a pleasant sounding Méphistophélès in spite of his thick American accent. The aria from "L'Africaine" surely ranks among the best versions of this aria ever captured on record.

1938

Nov. 13 – Detroit, Masonic Temple – J. Iturbi

 

         Gounod – Faust: Salut, demeure chaste et pure [Sw]

         Massenet – Manon: En ferment les yeux [Fr]

         Gounod – Messe Sonelle: Sanctus [Eng]

         Sibelius – Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte [Sw]

         R. Strauss – Cäcilie [Ger]

Björling's only live recording from 1938 is a collector's item and has only recently partly been published. For a long time, it was not known if the recording existed at all. The very reliable Harald Henrysson doubted it. The excerpts known are not easy to judge because Björling's voice sounds a bit mature for 1938. The orchestra is without doubt American. On the other hand, there are only a handfull of other known recordings of "Cäcilie" around, which were made between 1955 and 1959 and which are not identical with this one. The "Sanctus" is different from the Firestone version from 1946.

1939

Jun. 08 – Hilversum, Algemeene Vereniging Radio Omroep – F. Weissmann

 

         Verdi – Messa da Requiem: Ingemisco [Lt]

         Meyerbeer – L'Africaine: Ô paradis [It]

         Bizet – Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais [Fr]

         Massenet – Manon: En fermant les yeux [Fr]

         Gounod – Faust: Salut, demeure chaste et pure [Sw]

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

It is another lucky coincidence that Björling sang in Holland where the recording technique was very well developped. For many years, performances at the Concertgebouw had been recorded in excellent quality, and also this recital was preserved in very good sound. Björling is in very good voice and goes without problems through his demanding program. This is the first live recording of the "Carmen"-aria, vocally impeccable, with a beautiful diminuendo on the top-note, but with annoyingly bad French. The aria from "Faust" is sung in Swedish and, just as the "Bohème"-aria, sung in key. The C is hit piano and then opened with an enormous crescendo, a fantastic effect that cannot be ruined by the violin being a half note flat on the last note.

 

Aug. 06 – Furuvik Park – H. Ebert, piano

 

         Peterson Berger – Jungfrun under lind [Sw]

         Althén – Land du välsignade [Sw]

Again, Björling is in great shape. The voice is mature, agile, homogeneous and well projected. The attacks on the high notes are smooth and hit the high notes right in the center (here on the last word "Sverige"). Here, Björling seems to be even more involved than when singing opera arias – the voice is full of juvenile fire.

 

1940

Dec. 08 – Detroit, Masonic Temple Auditorium – E. Ormandy

 

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         Bartlett – A Dream [Eng]

         Rossini – La danza [Sw]

         Denza – Funiculì, funiculà [It]

In this program, Björling again sang the "Bohème"-aria flawlessly and in key which did not seem to have been a problem for him in those years. This recording, however, is interesting because of two other items. Firstly, it features Björling's other version of "La danza", again in Swedish. Then, he sings a version of "Funiculì, funiculà" in Italian (not in the original Neapolitan). The recording proves that Björling was capable of a certain italianità, but he was probably wise not to try singing it in the original dialect. The arrangement of the song, which includes some interpolated acuti for Björling and a choir, is done in a typical American way. It reminds of the soundtrack of Disney movies of that time and the arrangements later created for the Firestone-tapes. They are of doubtful taste and it is a pity that many of the few recordings Björling made of popular Italian songs were coupled with these arrangements.

 

1941

Apr. 08 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – N. Grevillius

 

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         Bizet – Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais [Fr]

         Gounod – Roméo et Juliette: Ange Adorable [Sw]

with Hjördis Schymberg

Also on this occasion, Björling can be heard in perfect shape. Again, he sings the "Bohème" piece in key. Rodolfo and Roméo were two of the roles that Björling performed on a regular basis in Stockholm during the war years, usually with Schymberg as partner in both operas.

 

1942

Jan. 31 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – S. Ehrling

 

         Rangström – En ballad om Lameks söner [Sw]

         Rangström – En ballad om Narren och Döden [Sw]

         Rangström – En ballad om god sömn [Sw]

This is a very interesting recording. Here, Björling sang the world premiere of three songs by Swedish composer Ture Rangström. Rangström, who wrote many beautiful songs and symphonies, was one of the leading Swedish composers of that time and had a very distinct musical language. The songs were performed in the composer's presence. Björling sings these well crafted songs with great accuracy, involvement and style. His voice can hardly be heard in better shape. Surprising is the excellent baritonal quality that Björling displays in the song about the jester and the death ("Narren och döden"). A full low C does not cause him any trouble. With the juvenile power, the cutting acuti and the great low register, he would probably have made a great Siegmund.

 

1943

Jun. 06 – Stockholm, Radio Studio – H. Ebert, piano

 

         Eklöf – Morgon [Sw]

         Peterson Berger: När jag för mig själv [Sw]

         Peterson Berger: Som stjärnorna [Sw]

         Peterson Berger: Bland skogens höga [Sw]

         Althén: Land, du välsignade [Sw]

Jul. 10 – Stockholm, Royal Academy of Music – S. Ehrling

 

         Puccini – Tosca: E lucevan le stelle [It]

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Sw]

         Puccini – Turandot: Nessun dorma [It]

The recordings from the June session are very hard to find, and only the second song by Peterson Berger ("Som stjärnorna") was issued on LP. Björling used to perform the other two songs, and it is a pity that this particularly beautiful song often is omitted in the releases.

Probably of greater interest for the general audience are Björling's first live recordings of the Puccini-arias from "Tosca" and "Turandot". The "Nessun dorma" is particularly interesting because it proceeded the studio recording by one year. Björling demonstrates that he is able to sing the demanding aria with brilliance, power and without any strain. The acuti are sung with full voice as required.

The Italian, however, is unsatisfactory ("prinshipezza"), and the musical accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. Björling makes many musical mistakes in this version.

 

1944

Nov. 10 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – T. Mann

 

         Donizetti – L'Elisir d'amore: Una furtiva lagrima [It]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma, quel vino [It]

         Puccini – Turandot: Nessun dorma [It]

Unfortunately, only these three pieces from the concert of November 1944 have been recorded. Björling also sang a couple of Swedish songs and a longer piece by Rangström, "Tristans död". The recorded items are very interesting. While "Una furtiva lagrima" appears as a weird and not very fortunate choice for a tenor who was developping into a real spinto,the "Nessun dorma" is one of Björling's most fascinating recordings. Tor Mann conducts (as usual) with Furtwänglerian lentezza and heaviness and stretches the aria to an unbelievable total time of 4'10''. Usually, the aria does not last longer than three minutes, and Björling's studio recording from the same year is about 3'10''. Björling sings with a stunning legato line and a perfectly focused, ringing tone throughout. He does not make any musical mistakes. In spite of the difficulty of the aria and the slow tempo, he remains totally calm and delivers a high B natural that remains without competition.

 

1945

Jan. 01 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – T. Mann [Not published]

 

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         Puccini – La bohéme: O soave fanciulla [It]

with Hjördis Schymberg

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma quel vino [It]

It is sometimes hard to understand why certain recordings are published and why some remain shut away. The recordings from January 1945 are much better than the ones from the ones made in September but are not available on any commercial release. Björling is in great voice, and again, his great legato singing and perfectly focused tone make a great match with Tor Mann's heavy but dense conducting. The "O soave fanciulla" is remarkably well done. Both voices are merging in long legato bows. The end is sublime: Björling sings the musically better low option and Schymberg a long high C that fades out beautifully. This duet cannot be done better.

 

Sep. 28 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – T. Mann

 

         Massenet – Manon: Je suis seul... Ah! fuyez, douce image [Fr]

         Massenet – Élégie [Sw]

         Bizet – Les pêcheurs de perles: Je crois entendre [Fr]

         Donizetti – L'Elisir d'amore: Una furtiva lagrima [It]

         Cilea – L'arlesiana: È la solita storia [It]

Here, the choice of arias clearly went into the wrong direction. Björling's voice was fine for the big aria from "Manon" and the "Élégie" but too heavy for the "Pêcheurs" and "L'Elisir". Both operas require either a lyric or light lyric voice, and the tessitura of both roles is corrispondingly high. "Je crois entendre" is transposed down a full step, and the highest notes are not tender (as required) but sung with full voice and too short. There is an unpleasant discrepancy between the loud tenor and the pianissimo orchestral accompaniment. The same applies for "Una furtiva lagrima" where Björling, obviously tired by the uncomfortable tessitura, skips the first high A, which is followed by an inaccurate coloratura. He only shortly touches the following high A. In the "Lamento di Federico", Björling is tired and cannot handle Tor Mann's slow tempi.

 

Oct. 07 – Detroit, Masonic Temple Auditorium – D. Mitropoulos [Not published]

 

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         R. Strauss – Zueignung [Ger]

         Grieg – Jeg elsker dig [Dan]

         Leoncavallo – Mattinata [It]

This is the first recording of Björling with Dimitri Mitropoulos. Unfortunately, it has never been made accessible to the public. Except for the "Bohème"-aria, none of the other pieces had been recorded live previously. This version of "Zueignung" is probably Björling's best recorded version of the song. Interesting is also Grieg's "Jeg elsker dig" which is sung in Danish. "Mattinata" is sung with great timing and verve but without the high B natural that he had inserted in the 1944 studio-recording.

 

Nov. 19 – New York, Rockefeller Center – H. Barlow

 

         Firenstone – If I could tell you [Eng]

         Schubert – An Sylvia [Eng]

         Massenet – Manon: Instant charmant... en fermant [Fr]

         Foster – Jeannie with the light brown hair [Eng]

         Flotow – Martha: Ach so fromm [It]

         Firestone – In my garden [Eng]

This is the first concert out of a long series of concerts sponsored by Firestone. Most of these concerts were made for a broad public, and the programs normally contained a bigger amount of popular music and classical pieces in new, "lighter" arrangements. The orchestra, conducted by Howard Barlow, usually played medleys of famous classical pieces in between the solo numbers. Every concert had to be opened and closed with the two pieces by Firestone, who are, just as the arrangements and the orchestral medleys of doubtful musical taste and quality.

Björling is in good voice in this concert, but the pieces he sings are not too demanding either. The sound quality is poor for a professional recording.

 

Dec. 22 – New York, Rockefeller Center – A.-L. Björling, piano

 

         Gruber: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht [Sw]

with Anna-Lisa Björling

         Adam: Cantique de Noël [Sw]

This is the only recording of Björling singing "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht". He sings the second voice (demonstrating some good baritonal qualities) while his wife sings the first and plays the piano.

 

1946

Jan. 13 – Detroit, Masonic Temple Auditorium – E. Ormandy

 

         Massenet – Manon: Je suis seul... Ah! fuyez, douce image [Fr]

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Sw]

         R. Strauss – Ständchen [Ger]

         Geehl – For you alone [Eng]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma quel vino [It]

Again, Björling is in stunning shape and has a congenial accompanist in Eugene Ormandy. The aria from "Manon" shows Björling in full control. The repeated and difficult cues on G are taken without any problems in a beautiful mezzoforte. The declamatory middle part is more dramatic compared to his earlier recordings. In "Tonerna", the voice sounds unusually rich and dark in the middle range, announcing the change it would go through in the following years. The high A-flat is again sung in a flawless pianissimo. The highlight is, however, the aria from "Cavalleria rusticana". It is vocally impeccable, with great legato lines and expression. Ormandy presents a very good arrangement of the final bars that should have been used more often. Unfortunately, only a fragment of the "Ständchen" has been preserved.

 

Jan. 21 – New York, Rockefeller Center – H. Barlow

 

         Firestone – If I could tell you [Eng]

         Romberg – Maytime: Will you remember [Eng]

         Geehl – For you alone [Eng]

         Verdi – Il trovatore: Miserere [It]

with Eleanor Steber

         Firestone – In my garden [Eng]

The only interesting piece in this Firestone concert was the "Miserere" from "Il trovatore". It is the only record of Eleanor Steber and Jussi Björling together. The recording is unfortunately not very good. The voices are distorted, and the orchestra (the Firestone Orchestra) substandard. Eleanor Steber has a certain way of attacking high notes that sounds unmusical, and her Italian is impossible. Björling does what has to be done, nothing more and nothing less.

 

Mar. 25 – New York, Rockefeller Center – H. Barlow

 

         Firestone – If I could tell you [Eng]

         Grieg – Jeg elsker dig [Dan]

         Godard – Jocelyn: Cachés dans cet asile [Eng]

         d'Hardelot – Because [Eng]

         Herbert – Princess Pat: Neapolitan Love Song [Eng]

         Firestone – In my garden [Eng]

Again, one or two interesting pieces are enfamed by musically inunteresting and not very demanding pieces by Firestone, Herbert and d'Hardelot (Rhodes). The Grieg-song, popular in the US, was sung in Norwegian or rather Danish as the poetry the Norwegian composer used was stronly influenced by Danish. The "Berceuse" from "Jocelyn" is one of those pieces that survived while the opera to which it belonged, got forgotten. It suited Björling's voice exceptionally well. Unfortunately, it is (as always by Björling) sung in English. The French text is a much better match with the music.

 

Apr. 15 – New York, Rockefeller Center – H. Barlow

 

         Firestone – If I could tell you [Eng]

         Gounod – Repentir [Eng]

         Gounod – Messe Sonelle à Sainte Cécile: Sanctus [Lt]

         Schubert – Die Allmacht [Ger]

         Firestone – In my garden [Eng]

This is another Firestone program with an odd choice of repertoire: the unavoidable Firestone pieces, two French religious pieces and a German Lied. While Björling's voice is in pristine shape, the orchestra's inferior quality and the stagy and kitschy conducting make this program hard to enjoy. It is the only preserved recording of Gounod's "Repentir".

 

May 12 – Detroit, Masonic Temple Auditorium – F. Reiner

 

         Gounod – Faust: Salut, demeure chaste et pure [Fr]

         Peterson Berger – Jungfrun under lind [Sw]

         Althén – Land, du välsignade [Sw]

         Tours – Mother o' mine [Eng]

Dec. 21 – New York, Rockefeller Center – pianist unknown

 

         Adam – Cantique de Noël [Sw]

 

1948

Mar. 15 – New York, Rockefeller Center – D. Vorhees

 

         Leoncavallo – Mattinata [It]

         Rachmaninov – Siren [Eng]

         Morgan – Clorinda [Eng]

         Massenet – Manon: Je suis seul... Ah! fuyez, douce image [Fr]

After a period of illness (lumbago, which did not have any effect on the voice), this is Björling's first recorded recital since December 1946. The voice is darker, rougher and more mature compared to the 1946 recordings. The song "Clorinda" was an odd choice, especially when coupled with pieces by Massenet and Rachmaninov. In the "Mattinata", no high B is inserted. Rachmaninov's "Lilacs" is sung well and tastefull. Björling's English has a strong Swedish accent though.

 

Sep. 26 – Stockholm, Gustaf Vasa Church – N. Grevillius [Not published]

 

         Stenhammar – Ett folk: Sverige [Sw]

This was recorded during the funeral ceremony for Count Folke Bernadotte who was assassinated by Isræl;li terrorists while working as a U.N. mediator in Palestine. It was broadcast but never published.

 

Nov. 15 – New York, Rockefeller Center – D. Vorhees

 

         Rimskij Korsakov – Sadko: Ne shchest almazov [Eng]

         Tosti – L'alba separa [It]

         Geehl – For you alone [Eng]

         Bizet – Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais [Fr]

Here, Björling's vocal change of those years is very evident. The tone in the middle and lower register is so dark that it reminds of a baritone. The voice is much rougher. Instead of placing a diminuendo on the high note in the "Carmen"-aria, he now sings the note a bit shorter and fortissimo. The sound is, however, well focused and brilliant. The "L'alba separa" is not very italianate or nuanced, but heroic, baritonal and dramatic. The song is arranged "all'Americana" and sounds like the soundtrack of a Hollywood-movie.

 

1949

Apr. 04 – New York, Rockefeller Center – D. Vorhees

 

         Schubert – Ständchen [Ger]

         Herbert – Princess Pat: Neapolitan Love Song [Eng]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma quel vino [It]

The quality of the recorded sound and hence also the impression the recording makes differs from release to release. The Glendale-LP offers the best sound, and here, Björling's voice sounds as rich and dark as it possibly can get. The Schubert-serenade documents better than any other recording how Björling had developped into a spinto during the 1946-1949 period. On the other side, these recordings have to be taken with a grain of salt. Björling was apparantly very close to the microphone, and the sound is heavily compressed.

 

Apr. 11 – Rockefeller Center, New York – J.W. Quillian, piano

 

         Söderman – Trollsjön [Sw]

         Alfvén – Skogen sover [Sw]

         Sjögren – I drömmen du är mig nära [Sw]

         Rangström – Tristans död [Sw]

         Tosti – L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra [It]

         Peterson Berger – Jungfrun under lind [Sw]

The recording of this concert (in which also Joel Berglund and Karin Branzell participated) is extremely interesting but unfortunately very hard to find (on LP only: MDP 026). Björling is in great shape here and sings a number of demanding pieces. The dramatic and long "Tristan's död" by Rangström and Söderman's ballad "Trollsjön" with a high B natural are fantastic. The voice does not sound as heavy as in the previous recordings, maybe also a result of different miking. In Sjögren's "I drömmen du är mig nära", Björling demonstrates why he was one of the best tenors of his time. He has a flexible and soft voice, piani, great legato and expression, style, heroic attack, a beautifully balanced and homogeneous voice and, obviously, stage presence.

 

Aug. 23 – Los Angeles, Hollywood Bowl – I. Solomon

 

         Händel – Serse: Fron di tenere... Ombra mai fu [It]

         Beethoven – Adelaide [Ger]

         Puccini – Turandot: Nessun dorma [It]

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         Puccini – La bohème: O soave fanciulla [It]

         Gounod – Faust: Ange adorable [Fr]

         Gounod – Roméo et Juliette: Nuit d'hymenée [Fr]

All duets sung with Anna Lisa Björling

This concert was a piece of routine. Björling sang the numbers that he from now on would use in many of his recitals. The Bohème/Roméo-combination had been a standard-combination since the 1940s in Stockholm. Björling's choice of repertoire was not very inventive, and especially in the post-war-time, he did not add many new pieces to it.

 

Sep. 25 – San Francisco, War Memorial Opera House – K. Kritz

 

         Puccini – La bohème: O soave fanciulla [It]

with Licia Albanese

This recording is apparantly a part of an opera performance. It's a pity that only the duet was preserved as a pairing with Albanese and the cast of the San Francisco Opera would definitely have been more interesting than the Met-standard-cast of that time (cf. the complete Bohème from 1948). The selection was broadcast in a Christmas programme which featured among others Lawrence Tibbett, Set Svanholm and Kirsten Flagstad.

 

Oct. 23 – San Francisco, War Memorial Opera House – G. Merola

 

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

         Puccini – La bohème: O soave fanciulla [It]

         Gounod – Faust: Ange adorable [Fr]

Both duets sung with Anna Lisa Björling

         Massenet – Manon: Je suis seul... Ah! fuyez, douce image [Fr]

Here, Björling is in good voice while his wife sings a rather anemic performance. Merola is a capable accompanist, and it is a nice change to hear the big aria from "Manon". Unfortunately, Björling cracks on the last high note.

 

Nov. 07 – New York, Rockefeller Center – D. Vorhees

 

         Foster – Jeannie with the light brown hair [Eng]

         R. Strauss – Ständchen [Ger]

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

Vocally, Björling was now moving away from repertoire like "La bohème". The aria is sung in key, but the voice is too weighty and heroic. It is the voice of Cavaradossi, not of Rodolfo. The Italian, on the other hand, was not improved.

 

1950

Mar. 06 – New York, Rockefeller Center – H. Barlow

 

         Firestone – If I could tell you [Eng]

         Herbert – Princess Pat: Neapolitan Love Song [Eng]

         Gounod – Faust: Salut, demeure chaste et pure [Fr]

         Puccini – La bohème: O soave fanciulla [It]

with Anna Lisa Björling

         Firestone – In my garden [Eng]

This entire session was recorded on video. Björling's spinto voice now has by far not the same ease in the highest register as it had when he sang with a lighter approach. The high C in the "Faust"-aria rings beautifully but it is too short and tensed. Also in the "Bohème"-duet, he is on the verge of cracking on the last high C. He sings it very shortly.

 

Jul. 06 – Stockholm, Gröna Lund Tivoli – H. Ebert, piano

 

         Meyerbeer – L'Africaine: Ô paradis [It]

         Schubert – Die böse Farbe [Ger]

         R. Strauss – Ständchen [Ger]

         Tosti – L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra [It]

         Giordano – Andrea Chénier: Come un bel dì di maggio [It]

         Leoncavallo – Pagliacci: O Colombina [Sw]

This is an interesting early document of one of Björling's many open-air recitals given at the Tivoli of Stockholm's "Gröna Lund". Björling is in good, fresh voice and sings an interesting program, including Beppe's serenade from "Pagliacci" (in Swedish) and the aria from "Andrea Chénier" (in Italian). Interesting is also the pianist, Mr. Ebert, or rather the agreement Björling must have made with his accompanists. Ebert, who presented himself as a warm-sounding, sensitive pianist at the 1939 set of Strauss songs, apparantly got the order to play orchestrally. He is hammering his way through the recital, and all the other pianists (Bokstedt, Schauwecker) who were captured live in recitals with Björling, played similarly.

The Swedish Bluebell label released almost the entire concert, but unfortunately, it was a half tone sharp.

 

Sep. 04 – Private party at Virum (Denmark) – no accompaniment

 

         Trad. – Hej dunkom [Sw]

         Dahl – Bachanal [Sw]

         Leoncavallo – Pagliacci: Prologo [Sw] (already on HT)

Two out of the four pieces Björling sang a capella at a party in Virum, Denmark, had already been featured in his first movie "Fram för framgång" ("Hey dunkom" and "Bachanal").The most interesting is the prologue from "Pagliacci", a baritone aria which is sung in flawless pitch and without any trouble in the lowest register. The recording of "Donna non vidi mai" was destroyed at Björling's request. Interesting is also the echo in the background. It sounds almost as if Björling is singing to a pre-recorded tape of his own voice.

 

Oct. 01 – Berlin, Titania-Palast – K. Gaebel

 

         Puccini – Tosca: E lucevan le stelle [It]

         Bizet – Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais [Fr]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma, quel vino [It]

Among the other artists who participated in this concert were Kunz, Calveti and Streich. Björling sang a solid performance, a bit uninspired maybe, a routine job.

 

Oct. 23 – New York, Rockefeller Center – D. Vorhees

 

         Meyerbeer – L'Africaine: Ô paradis [It]

         Rachmaninov – V molchan 'i nochi taynoy [Eng]

         R. Strauss – Zueignung [Ger]

         Giordano – Andrea Chénier: Come un bel dì di maggio [It]

While Björling certainly is a bit more passionate in this recording (compared to the Berlin recording) and while the voice is in good shape, he delivers a performance that is musically ambivalent. In the piece form "Andrea Chénier", he has intonation problems and makes many musical mistakes, especially in the last minute of the aria. The Italian in that particular piece is scandalous.

 

Nov. 20 – New York, Rockefeller Center – H. Barlow

 

         Firestone – If I could tell you [Eng]

         Bizet – Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais [Fr]

         Schubert – An Sylvia [Eng]

         Leoncavallo – Mattinata [It]

         Herbert – Princess Pat: Neapolitan Love Song [Eng]

         Firestone – In my garden [Eng]

This program was recorded on AV-tape and later issued by VAI. It shows Björling in a kitschy TV studio and several sets of which each was meant to match the atmosphere of the aria/song that Björling was singing. Sometimes, he is accompanied by a choir even though none of the pieces originally requires one. The arrangements of the pieces are chintzy and in some cases deform the pieces in such degree that it is hard to enjoy them (Mattinata). Björling gives a solid performance, not overly inspired, but beautiful. The pieces chosen for the program were uninteresting.

 

1951

Jan. 08 – New York, Rockefeller Center – D. Vorhees

 

         Massenet – Manon: Instant charmant... en fermant les yeux [Fr]

         Peterson Berger – Jungfrun under lind [Sw]

         Geehl – For you alone [Eng]

         Puccini – Manon Lescaut: Donna non vidi mai [It]

This recording shows a heavy-voiced Björling who has problems to give the piece from Massenet's "Manon" its necessary lightness, in spite of a beautiful pianissimo high A. The voice would be more suited for Cavaradossi or even a lighter Verdi role. Even for Puccini's Des Grieux, it seems a bit too rough. Even though Björling's voice had changed significantly, he did not change his repertoire.

 

Mar. 12 – New York, Carnegie Hall – D. Vorhees

 

         Leoncavallo – Pagliacci: Vesti la giubba [It]

         Glover – The rose of Tralee [Eng]

         Verdi – Aida: Se quel guerrier io fossi... Celeste Aida [It]

These pieces show that Björling's voice of 1950/51 was better suited for Verdi- and verismo repertoire than for lighter French operas. The aria from "Pagliacci" is sung in full voice and the appropriate sound. Even better is the aria from "Aida" – probably Björling's best recording of this particular aria. The sound is full, baritonal and the top notes heroic and brilliant. He does not sing the required pianissimo ending though, and the aria's dreamy character does not show.

 

Apr. 17 – Stockholm, Royal Academy of Music – S. Frykberg

 

         Verdi – Messa da Requiem: Ingemisco [Lt]

         Verdi – Rigoletto: Questa o quella [It]

         Verdi – Aida: Se quel guerrier io fossi... Celeste Aida [It]

         Puccini –Turandot: Nessun dorma [It]

         Puccini – La bohème: Che gelida manina [It]

This and the following recital from Finland were exceptionally hard to find even among collectors, and it is a pity that they have not been published on LP as the programs were more interesting than Björling's usual "American"-program and the orchestras were of better quality (Swedish/Finnish Radio Orchestra). The Stockholm-concert was preserved on a private wire recording and was recently released on CD by Bluebell. The Helsinki-recital was broadcast on Oct. 26, 1991 by the Finnish Radio.

In the Stockholm-recital, Börling is in great voice and sings the demanding program with a grand, heroic approach. The voice is brilliant and penetrating, and even though the voice is much heavier than in the years before, there are no problems with the acuti. The aria from "La bohème" was (as written on the left) sung in key after he already had sung four difficult arias. This demonstrates how many resources Björling still had left after "Ingemisco", "Questa o quella", "Celeste Aida" and "Nessun dorma". The C is hit without any problems and rings beautifully.

 

Jun. 20 – Helsinki, Yliopiston juhlasali – N.E. Fougstedt [Not published]

 

         Sibelius – Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte [Sw]

         Sibelius – Säv, säv susa [Sw]

         Sibelius – Var det en dröm [Sw]

         Sibelius – Svarta rosor [Sw]

 

Jul. 05 – Stockholm, Gröna Lund Tivoli – H. Ebert, piano

 

         Ponchielli – La Gioconda: Cielo e mar [It]

         Sjögren – I drömmen du är mig nära [Sw]

         Sjögren – Ich möchte schweben [Ger]

         Puccini – Turandot: Nessun dorma [It]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma quel vino [It]

         Stenhammar – Ett folk: Sverige [Sw]

         Leoncavallo – Mattinata [It]

The original material of this and other recordings with Björling made at the Gröna Lund was destroyed in a fire in 1993. Fortunately, it had been copied by the Swedish Bluebell record label for the 1994 release. The sound of this interesting program is unfortunately very dull and distorted. Björling is best in the Swedish songs by Sjögren and Stenhammar. "Ich möchte schweben" had been one of the favourites of his teacher John Forsell. Harry Ebert's orchestral piano playing often sounds wooden and clumsy.

1951 is the year in which Björling starts to aspirate the highest notes (C, B natural and B-flat) and to insert something like a grace note before the high note. He sings "vince – he – rò" and "torna – ha – ssi".

 

Aug. 10 – Stockholm, Gröna Lund Tivoli – H. Ebert, piano

         Bizet – Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais [Fr]

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Sw]

         Peterson Berger: Jungfrun under lind [Sw]

         Tosti – L'Alba separa dalla luce l'ombra [It]

         Giordano – Andrea Chénier: Come un bel dì di maggio [It]

         Verdi – Rigoletto: La donna è mobile [It]

         Eklöf – Morgon [Sw]

Also this recital was saved and later published by Bluebell. For some unknown reason, they have not managed to release the material in the correct speed. Their issue is a half note sharp. The sound is clear, crisp, and much better than in the recital from July 5. The program included, except for the aria from "Rigoletto", Björling's standard repertoire (Tosti, Bizet, Peterson Berger, Giordano).

 

Sep. 30 – San Francisco, War Memorial Opera House – G. Merola

 

         Ponchielli – La Gioconda: Cielo e mar [It]

         Tosti – L'Alba separa dalla luce l'ombra [It]

         Puccini – Tosca: E lucevan le stelle [It]

         Gounod – Roméo et Juliette: Nuit d'hyménée [Fr]

         Gounod – Roméo et Juliette: Ange adorable [Fr]

with Bidú Sayão

On this occasion, Björling's voice sounded a bit tired and worn and not as well focused as in the 1930s. There is a clear side noise. The difficult passaggio-phrasing in the "Gioconda"-aria on "o sogni d'or" and the legato lines are problematic for Björling. Many notes are cut off roughly and the acuti are all aspired ("a – hal – bacio", "a – ha – vien"). Also the aria from "Tosca" is not sung with the usual ease. The phrasing is tensed. Björling does not succeed when attempting to place a diminuendo on the first high A. The last high note is, however, fine.

Depending on the release, the voice gives a different impression also in this case. In the Glendale-release of the duet, Björling's voice sounds less worn and more powerful.

 

Nov. 11 – Los Angeles, CBS Hollywood Radio Studio – R. Noble

 

         Herbert – Princess Pat: Neapolitan Love Song [Eng]

         Gounod – Roméo et Juliette: Ange adorable [Fr]

with Anna Lisa Björling

These two selections were accompanied by rather silly comical dialogues ("Here comes Mr. Björling, the idol of Sweden and the idle Swede" and so on) with Bergen-McCarthy. The pieces are sung well (the Herbert-piece this time fortunately without the Firestone-choir), even though the voice seems too heavy for the light repertoire.

 

Nov. 19 – New York, Rockefeller Center – H. Barlow

 

         Firestone – If I could tell you [Eng]

         Beach – Ah love, but a day [Eng]

         R. Strauss – Ständchen [Ger]

         Leoncavallo – Pagliacci: Recitar... Vesti la giubba [It]

         Trad. – Wilt heden nu treden [Eng]

         Firestone – In my garden[Eng]

The only interesting pieces in this program were undoubtedly Strauss' "Ständchen" and the aria from "Pagliacci". Even though the arrangements are tasteless, Björling makes these pieces a rather enjoyable experience. The difficult "Ständchen" is sung the old-fashioned way, with full voice – and it is surprising how easily Björling goes through this difficult piece.

 

Dec. 02 – Los Angeles, CBS Hollywood Radio Studio – R. Noble

         Tosti – L'Alba separa dalla luce l'ombra [It]

         Romberg – Maytime: Will you remember [Eng]

with Anna Lisa Björling

1952

Jan. 25 – Stockholm, Swedish Radio Studio 2 – S. Rybrant, piano

 

         Anonymous – Sommerglädje

with Gösta Björling and Olle Björling (already on HT)

A wonderfully homogeneous luxury trio for this fun recording.

 

Mar. 10 – New York, Rockefeller Center – H. Barlow

 

         Firestone – If I could tell you [Eng]

         Speaks – Sylvia [Eng]

         Puccini – Turandot: Nessun dorma [It]

         Tosti – L'Alba separa dalla luce l'ombra [It]

         Herbert – Princess Pat: Neapolitan Love Song [Eng]

         Firestone – In my garden[Eng]

This is one of the few Firestone programs that has not been recorded on video, only the sound recording is known to exist. The program is a typical Firestone program where the two more or less interesting centerpieces are surrounded by pop-songs and operetta. The "Nessun dorma" is sung well but Björling somehow seems to be distant and not overly involved. The Tosti song was one of Björling's standard pieces – a fact that unfortunately can be guessed by the way Björling performs it: like a piece of routine.

 

May 25 – Stockholm, Skansen – H. Ebert, piano [Not published]

 

         Meyerbeer – L'Africaine: Ô paradis [It]

         Millöcker – Der Bettelstudent: Ich hab' kein Geld [Sw]

         Ponchielli – La Gioconda: Cielo e mar [It]

         Althén – Land, du välsignade [Sw]

 

Oct. 03 – Stockholm, Concert Hall – S. Frykberg

 

         Wagner – Lohengrin: In fernem Land [Sw]

         Sibelius – Var det en dröm [Sw]

         Sibelius – Säv, säv susa [Sw]

         Sibelius – Svarta rosor [Sw]

         Donizetti – L'elisir d'amore: Una furtiva lagrima [It]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma, quel vino [It]

 

 

This is Björling's first recording of "In fernem Land". In spite of quite a few musical mistakes and intonation problems, this is what many critics later would describe as the "perfect voice for Lohengrin". Björling sounds cool, distand and sexeless. The voice is, at the same time, of great beauty, clean, calm and transcendent. Björling's Lohengrin is too beautiful to be earthly and still has enough body for being more than something purely spiritual – indeed a perfect and unique combination.

While Björling was an ideal choice for Lohengrin, he was clearly not Nemorino anymore.

 

1953

Mar. ?? – Helsinki, Messuhalli- with piano [Not published]

 

         Wagner – Lohengrin: In fernem Land [Sw]

         Grieg – En svane [Nor]

         Grieg – En drøm [Nor]

         Nordqvist – Till havs [Sw]

         Sibelius – Säv, säv, susa [Sw]

         Sibelius – Demanten på marssnön [Sw]

         Tosti – L'alba separa dalla luce [It]

         Sjöberg – Tonerna [Sw]

         Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma, quel vino [It]

This is another private recording that is very hard to find. I have never seen a copy of this tape that has been given to the Finnish Radio by a private collector in 1991. The exact date of the recording is unknown.

 

Jun. 06 – Stockholm, Stadion – I. Gustafsson

 

         Alfvén – Endräkt [Sw]

         Wide – Nämner du Sverige [Sw]

This is the only recording of Björling singing Alfvén's "Endräkt", a partiotic song, which is sung in full operatic, baritonal sound. It had been published on LP only (Swedish Radio SRLP 1354/55) and was reissued on CD by VAI (VAI Audio1189).

 

Sep. 27 – Stockholm, Oscar Theatre – S. Wladimir (soundtrack recording for movie En gång jag seglar i hamn, a.k.a. Resan till dig)

 

         Verdi – Aida: Celeste Aida [It]

         Nordqvist – Till havs [Sw]