VERDI: Il trovatore
Jussi Bjoerling (Manrico); Zinka Milanov (Leonora); Leonard Warren (Count di Luna); Fedora Barbieri (Azucena); Nicola Moscona (Ferrando); Margaret Roggero (Inez); Paul Franke (Ruiz); George Cehanovsky (An Old Gypsy); Nathaniel Sprinzena (A Messenger); Robert Shaw Chorale; RCA Victor Orch/Renato Cellini, cond.
NAXOS 8.110240/1 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 2:14:41
 

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JUSSI BJOERLING COLLECTION (Volume I) (Complete Opera and Operetta Recordings in Swedish 1930-1938)
Music of Gounod, Verdi, Lehár, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Offenbach, Puccini, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Romberg, Laparra, Atterberg, Herbert, Kálmán, Abraham, Millöcker and J. Strauss II
NAXOS 8.110722 (B) (ADD) TT: 70:59

 

JUSSI BJOERLING COLLECTION (Volume II) (Songs in Swedish 1929-1937)
Music of De Curtis, Geehl, Schrader, Leoncavallo, Toselli, Arthur, Elgar, Ball, Aström, Törnquist, Bickvor, Bode, Handberg-Jorgensen, Jurmann/Kaper, Gyldmark, Pérez-Freire, Caruso and Dresser, plus traditional songs
NAXOS 8.110740 (B (ADD) TT: 70:20

This recording of Il trovatore was issued on RCA CD more than a decade ago, but now we have it sounding better than ever in Mark Obert-Thorn's masterful transfer, with a bonus as well—Zinka Milanov's Song Gems of Yugoslavia, 6 songs recorded in 1944 originally issued on Sonart. Prime interest is, of course, Trovatore, a reminder of glory days at the Met a half century ago when this sort of performance was quite commonplace. Caruso had said this opera requires "the four best singers in the world," and on this recording we hear as perfect a quartet as we are likely ever to encounter. Björling, Milanov, Warren and Barbieri were in their prime in early 1952 when this recording was made in Manhattan Center, and RCA's engineering is more than adequate, the overloaded moments tamed by M O-T. There is no libretto, but there is a track-by-track account of the story. This is an essential set in any Verdi collection.

About three years ago Naxos issued a well-filled (78:00) CD of twenty-three operatic arias sung by Jussi Bjorling recorded from 1936 to 1948 (8.110701). Even though all of these have been issued before, particularly in the 4-CD EMI set (66306), the Naxos issue is worth having for the superior transfers of Mark Obert-Thorn. Now Naxos has two more CDs devoted to the tenor, both of enormous interest. The first contains all of his opera and operetta recordings made from 1930 to 1938 sung in Björling's native language; most of his roles he sang first in Swedish at the Stockholm Royal Opera; thus "Questa o quella" becomes "O, I kvinnor!" and "E lucevan le stelle becomes "Jag minns stäjnorna lyste." Fascinating, indeed, to hear - and of course the youthful sound of the tenor (he was about twenty years old when the first was recorded) is consistently beautiful and controlled.

The second CD is a collection of songs sung in Swedish recorded from 1929 to 1937. There are many gems to be found in music of unknown composers (Geehl, Schrader, Arthur, Aström, Bickvor and others) as well as a song by Enrico Caruso called Ungdomsdrommar (Dreams of Long Ago). An intriguing bonus is inclusion of two recordings made about 1920 featuring the three brother trio: Olle, Jussi and Gösta, at the beginning of their successful tour of Swedish immigrant communities in the United States. The two songs are Summer Joy and On the Banks of the Wabash; the three young boys sound like they are having a terrific time. Transfers on both of these CDs are by Stefan Lindström who has been highly successful in capturing Bjorling's sound. Informative notes by Harald Henrysson add to the attraction of these fine releases.

R.E.B. (May 2003)