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Jussi Bjoerling: Rarities
Donald Dickson, Giacomo Puccini, Giacomo Meyerbeer
Jussi Bjoerling: Rarities
Genres: Special Interest, Pop, Classical


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At last, some REAL Bjorling rarities!
Joy Fleisig | New York, NY United States | 12/26/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I often go into a record store and see a `new' recording of Jussi Bjorling material, usually on a very small and not terribly reputable label, that proclaims `The Greatest Rarities of Jussi Bjorling!', or something like that, and I grab the CD with great eagerness only to find that this is yet another transfer of the same Bjorling recordings from the late 1930s which have been put on CD hundreds of times already. No doubt the people putting out these records think that everything Jussi did before the LP era began is `rare'. While Bjorling fanatics like me may be perfectly happy to own 20 DIFFERENT versions of this great tenor singing, for example, `Che gelida manina' , we don't want 20 of the exact same recording! So I am delighted to report that this isn't yet another collection of the same old stuff, and indeed contains several songs and sacred arias he never recorded anywhere else.This collection was put together by Cantor Don Goldberg, probably the foremost Bjorling authority in the United States - and I say `probably' only because Jussi's son Anders lives in Minnesota. In addition to presumably providing the original recordings, he has also written some excellent and perceptive notes on Bjorling's career as a recitalist and radio artist, which actually took up much more of Bjorling's time than his work on the opera stage.Of the 21 selections on this CD, 5 have never been released in any form, an additional 9 have never been released on CD to the best of my knowledge, and all but one of the rest of the offerings are on CDs that are now out of print. This `not really rare' selection is a `Flower Song' that also appears on the Bluebell CD `Jussi Bjorling Live in Holland and Norway'. All these tracks are originally from radio broadcasts, mostly from the Bell Telephone Hour and the Voice of Firestone. The operatic selections are familiar (i.e `Nessun Dorma', and arias from Manon, Carmen, etc), although occasionally in unfamiliar form, such as a Swedish language `Salut, demeure', and the songs tend to be those `chestnuts' well liked by American radio audiences of the time, such as `A Dream' by James Caroll Bartlett, and `The Rose of Tralee'. He throws in a few Italian songs as well, such as `Funiculi Funicula' and `La Danza', although the last is sung in Swedish as well.Of course, the singing is uniformly marvelous. Few would deny that Bjorling was, if not the greatest tenor of the twentieth century, at least in the top 5, and I, of course, would put him at number 1. Some highlights are `Nessun Dorma' sung by someone who actually understands that it's not a soccer anthem but the dreamy rapture of a man in love, a gorgeous rendition of `The Rose of Tralee' with superb feeling and legato, his marvelous English diction and facility with runs in `Clorinda', a superb `La Reve' from Manon, and, no great surprise from this master of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette and Faust, a deeply moving `O Divine Redeemer' by the same composer. There is a marvelous moment in the aforementioned `Funiculi Funicula' while the chorus is singing the words where he sings 4 notes ascending the scale of such beauty and power it makes one shiver. He also has marvelous soprano partners Grace Moore and Eleanor Steber in scenes from `Faust' and `Il Trovatore', and a very decent baritone partner, Donald Dickson, in a scene from `La Forza Del Destino', a pre-echo of the same duet recorded 12 years later with Robert Merrill.Why, then, only 4 stars, or more accurately, 3 1/2? Either I have better sounding LP originals than Cantor Goldberg does, which I think is highly unlikely, or the remastering had some problems. Some of the selections, notably `Funiculi Funicula' and `O Divine Redeemer', simply do not sound as good as they do on my LPs. It is possible this is due to my hearing the LPs and this CD on different systems, and also I have not listened to the LPs in some time and may be remembering incorrectly. In general, I get the impression that the process used was something similar to the Ambisonic Process used by Nimbus Records - both give Bjorling a faraway sound, sometimes almost like he is underwater. One thing I think was a very bad idea was that in virtually every case applause was cut off, making the ends of songs seem very abrupt and in some cases taking away from the impact of Bjorling's final (occasionally high) notes. To be even more picky, I think I would have also preferred the French language Gounod `Sanctus' he sang on the same broadcast as `O divine redeemer', because I don't think it's a terribly good English translation and it sounds better in Latin anyway. Still, I understand that Cantor Goldberg wanted to give us the rarest items possible.Though Jussi Bjorling impresses under almost any circumstances, I think this is a CD less for people who are comparatively new to his voice than for committed collectors, for whom this disc will be essential. And of course, I hope for Volume II and III and IV, or even more, even if they might need to change engineers. There's still quite a few more Bjorling rarities out there..."