by | Sep 28, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Jussi Bjoerling in Song = Songs by GEEHL, LEONCAVALLO, de CURTIS, SJOEGREN: 2 Songs; KOERLING, ARTHUR, KALMAN, BIZET, SCHUBERT: 5 Lieder; BRAHMS, LISZT. WOLF, GRIEG: 2 Songs; R. STRAUSS: 2 Songs; SIBELIUS; RACHMANINOV, TOSTI – Jussi Bjoerling, tenor/Orchestra dir. Nils Grevillius/Frederick Schauwecker, piano

Testament SBT 1427, 79:39 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

The brilliant Swedish tenor Jussi Bjoerling (1911-1960) signed his first contract with Swedish HMV 4 October 1929, and it marked the beginning of an illustrious legacy that would last just over thirty years. Often compared to Enrico Caruso for his staying power and the ease with which he could ascend to high B and C, Bjoerling enjoyed a marvelous throat and chest projection, and impeccably sweet timbre. His diction in several languages rang with clarity, although as a youth of eighteen he could swallow a lisping syllable. But once the voice matured and took on a deeper resonance (c. 1936), Bjoerling’s instrument became as reliable and recognizable as any voice in the active vocal scene.  

This present collection embraces several of Bjoerling’s earliest inscriptions, 1929-1936, along with an elusive aria from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers from 1945 that had remained unpublished until 1977. The astonishing virility of Bjoerling‘s 4 September 1929 test pressings–particularly of Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata”–already point to a major talent. The remainder of the recital derives from RCA LP 1771 with pianist Frederick Schauwecker, from a session recorded 11 April 1952.  By the time we arrive at the eighth cut, a traditional melody, “Ack, Vaermeland, du skona” as arranged by Randel (7 October 1936, cond. Grevillius), we are swept into the throes of one of the most plastic, beguilingly sweet and supple voices in the art of song. The leap to the 1945 Bizet “Je crois entendre encore” proves jolting, as the darker color of the voice and its rocklike security lift us up and melt us at once, the sonority swelling into a silver wall in a heartbeat.  

While the “presence” of the 1945 Bizet piece echoes somewhat distantly, no such acoustical distance irks the 1951 recital with Schwauwecker from the RCA Studio No. 1 in New York, remastered by Jon Samuels. The opening Die Forelle moves ineluctably, even as it lilts with emotional sympathy when the creature’s blood stains the water.  The stunning hymnody of Der Allmacht staggers us with its resolute proclamation of faith. The tender Staendchen from The Swan-Song cycle never lets sentimentality cloud its noble, strophic simplicity, Bjoerling’s timbre on “liebe-schmerz” capable of melting granite. Goethe’s Wanderer’s Night-song inhabits an aerie close to Friedrich’s famous painting set above the mountain mists. The last of the Schubert group, “Die boese Farbe” from The Lovely Miller’s Maid cycle, asserts a limitless energy and musical confidence even the midst of emotional disappointment and romantic rejection. Intimations of mortality find plaintive expression in “Die Mainacht” of Brahms and Liszt’s “Es muss ein Wunderbares sein,” perhaps even spiritual desolation in Wolf’s “Verborgenheit.” Grieg’s delicate songs, “En svaene and “En droem,” Bjoerling sings in Norwegian and Danish, respectively. Liquid accompaniment from Schauwecker doesn’t hurt, and the keyboard scintillations pervade the Strauss Staendchen as well. The Strauss “Morgen” quite drips with sylvan passion, a meditation of unearthly, incremental beauty. For potent chest-tone, try Bjoerling in the Sibelius “Svarta rosor,” an inspired melody from the Finnish master. The Sjoeberg “Tonerna” offers Bjoerling a chance to demonstrate his floating high notes and graduated pianissimo; the Rachmaninov “Lilacs,” sung in English, gives us the fusion of nature and human sympathy that Bjoerling’s voice instantiates to the core. Finally, more of the Neapolitan spirit, in Tosti’s “Ideale,” a pure, evolving cantabile seamlessly rendered by a breath-control with no apparent limits, an “ideal” which our present musical world sorely misses.

— Gary Lemco

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