Jussi Bjoerling Rediscovered
First thought – perhaps prompted by the previous night’s London recital in which the allowance was four songs, seven arias and two encores – is to wonder at the sheer generosity of provision. Björling programmed 12 songs and three arias, but added altogether 10 encores, five of song, five operatic. The event was recorded complete but issued originally on LP with nine items missing. They are now restored; hence the title and its deliberately thus-printed ‘reDiscovered’.
The missing nine most conspicuously included a Scandinavian group: songs of Grieg and Sibelius, and an encore, Tonerna, with its breathtakingly beautiful quiet ending (you hear the stillness of the hall). Of these, A Swan is particularly imaginative in this performance, reminding us that Björling was a pupil of Joseph Hislop. There would have been good practical reasons for omitting these from the LP selection, but the ‘Farewell’ in Cavalleria rusticana must surely have been fought over. It is an inspired account and uncommonly vivid in dramatic realisation (even down to the pianist’s way of giving the notes before Turriddu’s ‘I’ll go and get some fresh air’ the precarious dignity of the very drunk).
In general, the pattern of Björling’s recitals is well represented: a little below temperature at the start, well and truly ablaze before the end. He sang Adelaide much better in 1939 on 78s, and his Schubert isn’t the Schubert of (say) Peter Schreier (nor is Frederic Schauwecker’s playing school-of-Gerald-Moore). Still, even in these there is a surprising amount to be relished if the taste can be receptively adjusted. Above all, with the concert presented whole, with announcements and applause, one feels oneself ‘there’, and, once there, then thrillingly in the presence of a singer whose art, as well as his voice, placed him among the century’s finest.