V2472. JUSSI BJÖRLING, w.Bertil Bokstedt (Pf.): Songs by Schubert, Brahms, Liszt, Strauss,Wolf, Sibelius, Alfvén, Grieg & Tosti: Björling announces Peterson-Berger song as a substitute; Arias from Andrea Chénier, Carmen & Die Zauberflöte - Live Performance from Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, 15 October 1959; w.Howard Barlow Cond. Voice of Firestone Orch.: If I Could Tell You (Idabelle Firsetone), Sylvia (Speaks), L’alba separa (Tosti), PRINCESS PAT - Neapolitan Love Song (Victor Herbert), TURANDOT – Nessun dorma Broadcast Performance, 10 March, 1952. Voice of Firestone, NBC Studios Rockefeller Center, New York. (England) JSP Records JSP 682, accompanied by elaborate 24pp booklet containing Stephen Hastings' analysis of this recital. Transfers by Seth B. Winner. [This beauty is a recital of incomparable artistry and beauty - one of the greatest musical treasures on this website!] - 788065680220
“The [above] recital given in Copenhagen on 15 October, 1959, comes from a unique tape owned by John H. Haley, and has never been issued in whole or in part; no other copies are known to exist.
‘Incomparable’ is an overused adjective in the musical world, but if that word ever applied to a singer, it is most certainly a fitting description of the Swedish tenor. Björling was endowed by nature with one of the most beautiful tenor voices of any era. In addition to his superb instrument and technique, Björling’s performances were invariably models of excellent musicianship and taste.
The Copenhagen recital took place less than eleven months before Björling’s untimely death from the heart condition that had plagued his health for several years. The venue was the newly completed, and acoustically superb, Falkoner Centret Concert Hall, which was built as part of a hotel and conference complex. The forty-eight-year-old tenor was in excellent vocal estate for this event, his singing possessing much of the same ease and lyricism as in his younger days. As was typical of his recital programming, Björling offered a mix of song literature interspersed with operatic material.
Björling’s honest, unmannered delivery of the German lieder selections is both compelling and refreshing. Björling’s recitals afforded him an opportunity to sing operatic arias that were not part of his stage repertoire. Though he had sung Tamino in Mozart’s DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE early in his career, it never became one his international roles. Don José in CARMEN and the protagonist in ANDREA CHÉNIER were roles Björling never sang on stage. The latter is especially mystifying - Chénier was the favorite role of Beniamino Gigli, another of the twentieth century’s première lyric tenors, and should have been vocally and dramatically ideal for Björling. The ‘Flower Song’ from CARMEN and Act IV aria from CHÉNIER, both excellent vehicles for his superb legato and breath control, are effectively delivered, in their original languages.
Pianist Bertil Bokstedt performed frequently with Björling in the 1950s. His alert and involved collaboration in this recital must have been a pleasure for the singer.
The JSP CD includes a generous twenty-four-page booklet featuring excellent annotative material. This article is accompanied by eleven photos and illustrations. This JSP release is a first-class production, and a significant addition to the Björling discography. It belongs in the library of every serious vocal collector.“
- Gary A. Galo, ARSC Journal, Fall, 2016
“This is an extraordinary discovery - a Jussi Björling recital that has not previously been available. It was his final Copenhagen appearance, eleven months before his death, and it was given at a time when his heart problems were already manifesting themselves. He had been hospitalized a few months prior to this recital, and his health is probably the reason that the program is shorter than his earlier recitals. But what remarkable vocal condition he displays throughout!
There are some cases where the performances strike me as among the finest of his that can be found on disc. The program starts with a real rarity for this tenor: a regal, beautifully shaped performance (in Danish) of Tamino’s aria from THE MAGIC FLUTE. Hearing this makes one regret that he never made this role (or any Mozart role) a central part of his repertoire. His singing offers a text book example of an evenly produced legato and flexible phrasing. We also recognize immediately that in Bertil Bokstedt the tenor has a particularly sensitive and skillful pianist. The Mozart alone might make this disc a worthwhile investment because of its rarity in the Björling discography, but in fact this recital finds him in such magnificent voice that it can be recommended to anyone who loves the singer, and it also is a wonderful way for someone who wants to understand the reasons that we old-timers rave about [him].
Simply put, this is one of the most naturally beautiful voices ever given to a human being, matched with impeccable musical instincts and taste. There is not a single hint throughout of Björling’s failing health. His voice pours forth heroically in Strauss’ ‘Zueignung’, the final encore of the concert, demonstrating full strength and a real ring to the tone. But what keeps catching the listener is the sensitivity, the singer’s ability to vary the color and dynamics at various soft shadings.
To my ears, these performances of the songs by Brahms, Liszt, Wolf, and Schubert are among his very finest efforts in that arena. As Stephen Hastings points out in his superb notes (there are three excellent essays in the booklet), Björling’s way was not the highly intellectualized approach of a Fischer-Dieskau (or, today, Ian Bostridge). His was first and foremost a vocal approach to the Lieder repertoire. That does not mean, however, that he ignored or slighted the meaning of the texts. His singing conveys clearly the meanings of all of the songs, and he is helped by Bokstedt’s pianism which is, frankly, more imaginative and specific in its shaping than was the case with the singer’s usual Frederick Schauwecker. In particular, Liszt’s ‘Es muss ein Wunderbares sein’ is magical.
Purists will complain that Björling ignores the soft dynamic on the climactic B-Flat in Don José’s ‘Flower Song’, but so did almost everyone else. Few, however, sang the entire aria with the kind of hushed beauty and authentic emotional intensity that the tenor conveys here. Hastings’ notes tell us that there is a total of eleven recorded performances by Björling of Sibelius’ ‘Säv, sav, susa’. I don’t know all of them, but do have five on hand for comparison, and this one is the most beautiful of all. Another song that made regular appearances on the tenor’s recital programs was Hugo Alfvén’s ‘Skogen sover’ (‘The Forest Sleeps’), and once again never has its hushed beauty, sung in a sustained mezza voce, been more meltingly conveyed.
The Copenhagen recital is greatness defined, and the recorded sound is remarkable. Apparently the concert was recorded on reel-to-reel tape by the venue (Falkoner Centret is a hotel and conference center complex), and the balance and perspective are ideal. Seth B. Winner restored the tape, fixing some of the problems that age brings to old reel-to-reel recordings. He also did a wonderful job on the Voice of Firestone broadcast, which he took from 16” lacquer discs. That broadcast is a lovely bonus to fill out this CD, giving us all of the tenor’s part of the program, and creating flashes of nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember the show by including the Firestone announcer, and of course Björling’s rendition of the opening and closing theme songs, composed by Harvey Firestone’s wife Idabelle. Oley Speaks’ rather saccharine ‘Sylvia’, complete with chorus, is frankly not something even this great artist could save, though he does what is possible. But the other three items are terrific, capturing Björling in peak form. ‘Nessun dorma’ manages to be both beautiful and heroic at the same time, and Tosti’s ‘L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra’ is what glorious vocalism is all about. Even if you have a reasonably extensive collection of Jussi Björling recordings, this is a worthwhile addition. If you don’t, it is essential. The sound quality is more natural and well balanced than many of the tenor’s live recitals, and the magnificence of the singing is something the likes of which we shall probably never hear again.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“This mono recording was made by the [Falconer Centret] management and offers a very credible perspective between the singer and piano. Seth Winner has produced his usual excellent work with the restoration….Most valuable to my mind is ‘Die Mainacht’, taken slowly with lots of portamento and care for dynamics. It is a lesson in legato singing, with the consonants clear but never breaking the line….Falconer Centre tapes exist with other artists and are now owned by an American collector, John H. Haley.”
- Nils-Göran Olve, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2016