Jussi Björling Live - Holland 1939, Norway 1954
If I were to list the items on the first side here, the immediate response would probably be ''Not interested: got 'em.'' But the ''Ingemisco'' from Verdi's Requiem, which opens the recital, is a glorious performance even by Bjorling's best standards: phrases are exquisitely shaded and the vocal resources include a true pianissimo and a heroic fullness (''Statuens'' almost Caruso-like).The ''O paradiso'' (L'Africana) which follows starts as a poetic idyll with perfect legato, opening out and catching the declamatory enthusiasm with real flair, crowning it with a generous expansiveness in the final phrase, all immensely exciting. The Carmen Flower song, tenderly addressed, has the added grace of a finely-controlled diminuendo on the high B flat. A 'frog in the throat' momentarily affects the soft ''feuillages'' in ''En fermant les yeux'' (Manon), but a magical decrescendo on the high A and a beautifully hushed ending compensate. In ''Salut, demeure'', when Faust asks ''Quel trouble inconnu me penetre?'' the answer might understandably have something to do with the swoopy violin obbligato, while in the ''Che gelida manina'' the question ''Chi son? chi son?'' appear to be punctuated by the patter of not-so tiny feet; but the singing in both is magnificent.
Those recordings were made at Hilversum in 1939. The Bergen concert of 1954 (on the reverse side) seems to have been rather less happy, and the recorded sound is harsher. This too includes a performance of the ''Ingemisco'', but is more constricted and less imaginative. Bjorling's only known recording of Pieta, signore adds an interest, it is sung with sincere feeling and skilful handling of the voice, especially in view of his recent recovery from a throat operation and the apparent need for one on the part of the coughing audience. The group of songs (Sibelius, Grieg and Alfven) forms the most enjoyable part of this concert (though Bjorling experts, who may wonder whether the 'missing' song—Grieg's En drom—is included, should be notified that it is not).
Some of the same songs are also among the 1940 Victor recordings included on BELL187. The main attraction here, however, lies in the 'extras': too fervently-sung patriotic songs from 1939, two others recorded for the Stockholm Scout Movement in 1944, and one of the last of the 78s (HMV DB21513), arias from Aida and La Gioconda. The quality of performance and recorded sound is more consistent on this record, but I think that if I were choosing one it would be the first, for the Hilversum concert captures Bjorling at a special point in his development: the fine meeting-pointof youth and maturity.'