MOZART:  "Or sai chi l'onore" (Don Giovanni). BEETHOVEN:  "Abscheulicher, wo eilst du him?  Komm Hoffnung (Fidelio).  WEBER:  "Ozean, du Ungeheuer" (Oberon).  "Wie nachte mir der Schlummer...Leise, leise (Der Freischütz). WAGNER:  "Mild und leise" (Tristan und Isolde).   VERDI:  "Occo l'orrido campo..Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa (Un ballo in maschera).  "Pace, pace mio dio"  (La forza del destino).  "Ritorna vincitor"  and "Qui Radames verrà (Aida).
Birgit Nilsson, soprano/Philharmonia Orch/Heinz Wallberg & Leopold Ludwig, cond.

TESTAMENT SBT 1200 (F) (ADD) TT:  78:26
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WAGNER:  "Dich, teure Halle"  (Tannh”user).  "Johohoe! Johohoe! and "Wie aus der Ferne" (Der fliegende Holl”nder).  "Einsam in trüben" (Lohengrin).  "War es so schm”hlich," "Deinen leichten Sinn lass dich denn leiten," "Du zeugtest ein edles Geschlecht," "Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches King!" and Loge, h–r! Lausche heiher!" (Die Walküre)
Birgit Nilsson, soprano; Hans Hotter, baritone/Philharmonia Orch/Leopold Ludwig, cond.

TESTAMENT SBT 1201  (F) (ADD) TT:  74:18
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Finally these early recordings of Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson are issued on CD, in superb transfers from the original tapes, some appearing in stereo for the first time. These were recorded 1957/58 at the beginning of her illustrious career. In 1951 after her successful debut in Mozart's Idomeneo at Glyndebourne, she sang roles including Senta, Venus, Sieglinde, Donna Anna, Aida, Tosca and Salome in Stockholm, and by 1953 was singing at the Vienna State Opera: Elsa and Sieglinde. In 1954 she sang her first complete Ring in Munich, later beginning her legendary performances at Bayreuth, making her Met debut in 1959 as Isolde. In 1960 she recorded Isolde in Vienna for Decca/London with Sir George Solti conducting, as well as Turandot for RCA with Erich Leinsdorf on the podium. The following year she made her RCA recording of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, also with Erich Leinsdorf, which I prefer to her recording a few years later with Solti. Salome was recorded in Vienna in 1962, Elektra five years later, both with Solti.

The youthful Nilsson sound is heard on these CDs—the fearless, assured attacks on high notes, unfaltering pitch, and that gleaming almost vibrato-free sound that distinguishes every performance.  She is appropriately vengeful in Donna Anna's aria from Don Giovanni. The two Beethoven works are sung to perfection, with glorious accompaniment from the Philharmonia Orchestra's brass who negotiate the treacherously difficult horn passages with total security. Nilsson is imperious in the two Weber arias, appropriate for the former, not quite so for the latter in which she hardly sounds like a gentle, innocent young girl. Then follows the first of Nilsson's recordings of the "Liebestod" from Tristan.  The remainder of this CD contains arias from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino and Aida.  These are brilliantly sung although lacking in the warmth of the best Verdi sopranos, Leontyne Price, Zinka Milanov, et al.

The second CD finds Nilsson totally attuned to the repertory beginning with a blazing account of Elisabeth's Greeting from Tannh”user.  Of particular interest here is Hans Hotter as The Dutchman and  Wotan.  At the time of this recording Hotter was still in his prime, which cannot be said of his recordings with Solti a few years later.  These Hotter/Nilsson collaborations are essential for the collector. Excellent recorded sound, typical of EMI in those early years. Testament provides complete texts along with an appreciation of Nilsson by Alan Blythe, identical for each CD except for discussion of music on each. 

London/Decca inexplicably has deleted most of their Nilsson recordings, and has never issued on CD her superb collection of Scandinavian songs.  These new Testament issues help to fill the void.

R.E.B. (Nov. 2000)