‘The Very Best of Jussi Björling’ Album Review

Jussi Björling projected a restrained but intense passion that makes his finest performances memorable for a lifetime.

Updated and reprinted from our archives by popular request

Cited by many as the greatest singer of the 20th century, Jussi Björling was a Swedish tenor whose velvety voice possessed a much-desired quality known as ‘spinto”, a vocal term used to characterize a soprano or tenor voice of a weight between lyric and dramatic that is capable of handling large musical climaxes in opera at moderate intervals; in short a spinto singer can rise above the wall of sound created by an orchestra. Conductors and fellow-musicians prized the opportunity to work with him, since he was a man without ego, a man with a relentlessly sunny disposition, a tenor who wasn’t your typical egomaniac in search of self-aggrandizement.

Frequently compared with Caruso, Ponselle and Flagstad, Björling gave to the operatic world an incalculable legacy, burnished even brighter by his early death of an enlarged heart at the age of 49 in 1960. Even in the months preceding his death, Jussi retained his youthful lyricism and his superb technique, characterized by a brightly-toned voice with just a tinge of melancholy.

More elegant than Pavarotti, infinitely more precise in his diction without being pedantic, Björling projected a restrained but intense passion that makes his finest performances memorable for a lifetime. His “Nessun Dorma”, for instance, renders the competition (and operatic tenor singing is no less a contest than an Olympic decathalon) far too showy, even sloppy compared to Björling. And as for his “Una Furtiva Lagrima”, this incredibly moving “Recondita Armonia”, and “La Donna e Mobile”, there are none better. For many fans of great operatic singers, there is Caruso, and then there is Björling.

It must be said that the audience for classical music remains small, passionate and committed to record-buying, as well as an inspiration to the music industry which often despairs of the iTunes generation. Long after the best of current popular music has been forgotten, the works of Jussi Björling will continue to triumph with new generations of listeners.

If you are new to classical music, new to operatic tenors, and more than slightly bored with the ephemeral nature of most current music, you may owe it to yourself to invest in The Very Best of Jussi Björling. And yes, we did use the word ‘invest”.

Brian Miller

Brian Miller is the Publisher and Editor of Vivascene, which he founded in 2010. A former record store owner, business executive and business writer, he is devoted to vinyl records, classical guitar, and b&w photography.

3 comments

  1. JUSSI BJORLING HAD A SILVER TIMBRE TO HIS VOICE,AT VARIANCE WITH HIS SWEDISH ORIGIN.I FIRST HEARD THIS WONDERFUL TENOR,WHEN I WAS 9 YEARS OLD,MORE THAN 60 YEARS AGO.SADLY,HIS HEALTH DETERIORATED IN 1958 AND 1959,CULMINATING IN HIS PREMATURE DEATH IN 1960,AT THE AGE OF 49,THE SAME AGE AS ENRICO CARUSO,THE OTHER GREAT TENOR OF THE 20TH.CENTURY.HE WAS NOT REPLACEABLE.AS THE BEST SINGERS ARE.HE DIED ON HIS BELOVED ISLAND,WHICH HE OWNED,AND WHILST FISHING,HIS FAVOURITE SPORT.
    R.I.P.U=JUSSI

  2. I enjoyed Brian Miller’s review, which captures much of the appeal of Björling’s sound and artistry. And I congratulate Sony also for having the imagination to publish this set, probably as an honest celebration of one of the great RCA artists of the LP era, who was very much RCA’s “house tenor” between 1950 – 1960. The legacy was substantial and the tenor recorded popular aria and duet albums as well as complete versions of Trovatore, Cav/Pag, Manon Lescaut, Aida, Boheme, Rigoletto, Tosca, Turandot, Butterfly, and Verdi’s Requiem Mass. (The Pagliacci, Boheme, Butterfly have reverted to EMI, the Requiem to Decca, so are not included here.) All of these are irreplaceable and never out of date: luckily the sound was good for its time and the German technicians seem to have done a great job with their remastering.

    Kudos to all involved, for the CDs designed as miniature LPs in separate sleeves, an idea which is very convenient, to the choice of highlights chosen for each complete opera recording (only the Cavalleria is given here complete). Those of us who have all the complete operas appreciate the Björling-oriented highlights!

    Just one quote from a review of the Aida, by C.L.Osborne (for the 1993 Met Opera Guide) will illustrate the point: “Among the singers, Bjoerling, in his best post-Trovatore recording, is hors concours. He is no tenore di forza, but his ringing lyrical tone is so complete, so springingly launched, that it is never unsatisfying. And his mastery of line, his command of the classical effects (try the messa voce B-flat at ‘il ciel dei nostri amori’) is of a sort that makes even very fine singers seem faintly amateurish.”

    Then there’s a CD here of highlights from the most famous of all Met radio broadcasts, a Romeo et Juliette of 1947, as well as generous chunks of Björling’s song repertoire, especially the Scandinavian literature, which still haunt many of us 50 years after his death.

  3. My congratulations to the Sony Corporation for making this
    album available to honor this greatest of tenors.

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