Jussi Bjorling: The Ultimate Collection (CD review)

Jussi Bjorling, tenor; with various artists. RCA 74321 43468 2 (2-disc set).

When RCA released one of their sets of Caruso recordings, they labeled it "The Greatest Tenor in the World." Certainly, the fans of Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling (1911-1960) might have a say about that.

This two-disc set of Bjorling recordings is in RCA's "Artists of the Century" line, which also includes the aforementioned Caruso, Leontyne Price, Mario Lanza, and others. The Bjorling set contains twenty selections on the first disc and twelve more on the second for a generous total of 156 minutes, plus an informative set of booklet notes.

Bjorling was in his forties and at the height of his career when RCA made these recordings between 1950-1959, just before his untimely passing in 1960. They demonstrate a voice that is at once strong and robust yet lyrical and soaring. He was able to float a high note sweeter than most anyone on stage and to maintain an amazingly clear enunciation in the process.

Jussi Bjorling
The first disc contains short, popular pieces:  Verdi's "Celeste Aida," "La donna e mobile," Puccini's "Che gelida manina," "Nessun dorma," "E lucevan le stelle," Leoncavallo's "Vesti la giubba," Flotow's "M'appari tutt'amour," that kind of thing. The second disc contains fewer but longer pieces, Puccini's "Mario, Mario, Mario!," Verdi's "Dio, che nell'alma infondere," etc., and both discs give us a few recital pieces by Schubert and Strauss. The highlight of the set may be his live concert performance of "Nessun dorma," done with piano accompaniment and preceded by an enthusiastic request shouted out by an audience member. This live rendering nicely complements his version with full orchestra that the folks at RCA also include. 

Naturally, the digitally remastered audio quality varies from one piece to the next, some done in monaural, some in stereo; but none of it sounds overly compromised by noise reduction. A few of the songs are brighter, rougher, and edgier than others, it's true, but that we should expect. Compared to an earlier collection of Bjorling recordings from the thirties and forties on EMI, the RCA sound is cleaner, clearer, and more open. And, amazingly, the later voice had lost hardly an iota of its youthful vigor.

This must be counted among the best compilations of the great tenor's work on disc.     


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa