Jussi Björling: Copenhagen Concert & Voice of Firestone B’cast – JSP Records

Vocal enthusiasts may well rejoice that a previously unreleased tape of Jussi Bjoerling appears, from 1959. 

Jussi Björling: Copenhagen Concert – Jussi Bjoerling, tenor/ Bertil Bokstedt (piano) – The Voice of Firestone 1952 Broadcast – Jussi Bjoerling, tenor/ Orch. & Chorus/ Howard Barlow (rec. live, Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, 15 October 1959; NBC studio, Rockefeller Center, New York, 10 March 1952) – JSP Records JSP682, 67:50 [www.jsprecords.com] ****:
The Jussi Bjoerling Society USA unveils an undiscovered Bjoerling treasure – a Copenhagen recital from October 15, 1959. According to Sue Flaster, speaking on behalf of the Society, the recording, brought to light by collector John Haley, has been released on the JSP label, with the engineering entrusted to Seth B. Winner and CD booklet essays by Harald Henrysson and 
Opera News contributor Stephen Hastings.

These newly-discovered Bjoerling (1911-1960) tapes – in excellent sound quality – were recorded in Copenhagen on 15 October 1959 in the then brand new Falkoner Centret – a concert hall with superlative acoustics seating 2000 listeners. The venue had been fitted out with state-of-the-art recording equipment, which was employed to preserve musical events. The material found itself consigned to the archives – until now. There comes a substantial bonus as well: The Voice of Firestone concert from 10 March 1952. It was issued not long ago as filler for the Immortal Performances label-restored Il Trovatore from the Met in 1941.

Despite his failing health – witnessed by a pair of heart attacks – Bjoerling projects excellent voice, with little sign of strain in his upper register. He opens the seventeen selections of the Copenhagen program with Mozart’s “Dies Bildis ist bezaubernd” from Die Zauberfloete, sung in Swedish, a Bjoerling calling card. The Brahms “Die Mainacht” purrs with silken affection; then a Liszt song, “Es muss ein Wunderbares sein” ensues, affecting and tender with that special quality of timbre and power that Caruso’s widow claimed most closely resembled her husband’s gifts. Hugo Wolf’s “Verborgenheit” has two Schubert lieder follow: “Die Forelle” and “Die boese Farbe” from Die schoene Muellerin. The brightness of Bjoerling’s tenor for “Die Forelle” virtually has the fish walk on water. Bjoerling interrupts the flow of song with Bizet’s “Flower Song” from Carmen, the longest of the selections.

Bjoerling announces a change in the program, his substituting a Wilhelm Peterson-Berger song, “Jungfrun under lind” for the originally scheduled “Sa tag mit hjerte” of Hugo Alfven, inadvertently left on Bjoerling’s piano prior to his departure. More’s the pity, since the Alfven song represented the only lied Bjoerling had committed in the original Danish. Bjoerling’s homage to Alfven takes the form of “Skogen sover,” which luxuriates in the singer’s floated, transparent tessitura. Bjoerling remains in Scandinavia for four items: Sibelius’ “Demanten pa marssnoen” and “Saev, saev, susa”; then Grieg’s “En svane” and “En drom.” The latter two, by Grieg, bear that exquisite combination of sweet bitterness that Bjoerling’s voice – occasionally Flagstad’s – can capture so ineffably, bel canto tinged with tragic awareness. A brief excursion to Italy includes Giordano’s “Come un bel di maggio” from Andrea Chenier, Act IV and Tosti’s “Ideale.” “A Swedish tenor in Italian repertory without competition,” was one critic’s reaction. This piece, in its aesthetic superlative, defines Bjoerling himself. He concludes with the “Zueignung” of Richard Strauss, a grand expression of the singer’s commitments, aesthetic and moral.

The Monday night The Voice of Firestone (1952) maintains a few of the commercial announcements that underwrite the “best in music on regular radio.” The younger, lighter-toned Jussi introduces his voice with the title song, in English, “If I Could Tell You.” Howard Barlow’s orchestra and chorus apply themselves rather thickly. “Silvia” (in English) sends Bjoerling’s voice into a lyric haze with the strings rife with portamento, the chorus a heavy cream from Warner Brothers. From Puccini’s Turandot, his signature “Nessun dorma,” he controls with infinite degrees of graduated timbre and dynamics. Tosti’s “L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra” projects a spaciousness and seamless legato we hear definitely from Caruso and perhaps from Gigli and De Stefano. Victor Herbert’s light opera The Princess Pat offers “Neapolitan Love Song,” the serenade sung in English, again with an intrusive accompaniment from the chorus. With the closing announcements, Jussi says farewell with “In My Garden,” and a rich garden of love it has been.

—Gary Lemco

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