The Art of Singing: A Tribute to David Björling Vol.1

When my Father Jussi was chosen as the 20th century’s leading male opera singer by English music critics at the turn of the century, we felt great joy and pride in the family. From my very early age I experienced singing and music at home, but most of all, I remember visiting the Opera house when Father sang. A strong memory was La bohème. I tried to hide my tears trickling down the cheek in the last act. Already at the age of four to five, my Father and his brothers began to learn the essentials of the art of singing under my grandfather David’s solid guidance. Lars Björling
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Review "Lars Björling, born 1939, the youngest son of Jussi Björling, didn’t embark on a singing career until rather late, even though he had been singing all his life, as he explains in the quite extensive notes to this issue. He later studied singing for several years and also learnt a lot from his father in his youth and later his uncle Olle, Jussi’s older brother. This twofer is however a tribute to his grandfather David, whom he never met, but it is David’s method that formed Jussi’s master-ship as a singer and made him one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. This was emphatically established at the turn of the millennium when Classic CD in a poll among the magazine’s reviewers picked him out as the Number One. The material on these two discs comes from private recordings at various rehearsals with some fine pianists during a long period. Harry Ebert was for many years Jussi’s regular accompanist in Sweden and was very valuable for Lars’s development. Later he collaborated with Brita Lignell and Jan Eyron, the latter accompanist for many of the greatest singers in Sweden. Quite late Lars realised the value of these recordings. But, he says, “it is important to point out that they are not perfectly edited recordings. All songs and arias are done ‘in one piece’. So no cuts or other tricks! A piano sometimes not in tune, a wrong note now and then and some small mistakes in the singing is unavoidable under such circumstances. It is all about studies ‘without a net’, which can provide a special presence instead, a live character.” Recorded mostly between 1980 and 1990 they show a middle-aged singer who, admittedly, never had an operatic career. And he doesn’t pretend to be anywhere near his father in voice quality. It is possible, now and then, to hear something of “The Björling Sound”, present also in Jussi’s pre-marital son Rolf, who had a career, both at the Stockholm Opera and abroad. Another thing to observe is his deep insight in important aspects of song technique: breathing, enunciation, the shaping of musical phrases, nuances, to sing a seamless diminuendo, and how to make the words tell, to convey the drama or the feeling of a song or an aria. This basic, actually all-important, insight is very valuable to be able to study in his singing, especially in the light of his long essay titled “Singing technique, part 1”, also included in the booklet, which also implies that we can expect a further volume of his recordings. And, concerning Lars’s singing, let me stress the fact that, even though his vocal resources are sometimes stretched to their limits – sometimes over-stretched – and that the tone sometimes lacks bloom, his singing is in many ways a lesson to aspiring singers in how to sing. One has to disregard some less than enjoyable sounds, some overenthusiastic fortissimos and some wear on the tone, but the tone is free from wobbles and other defects that tend to appear quite early in some singers’ voices – often due to lack of solid technique. Contrary to my usual behaviour when reviewing, I sampled a couple of tracks on CD 1 and then started listening in depth with CD 2, with songs. The repertoire is primarily songs his father sang, though some of the Schubert and Richard Strauss songs are not to be found in Jussi Björling’s recorded repertoire. Sibelius’s Jubal was in Jussi’s repertoire but there are no recordings. The basic aspects of song technique listed in the previous paragraph are everywhere in evidence, and often they work together, creating very enjoyable results. Nacht und Träume, for instance with good legato singing and a beautiful second part of the song. Die Taubenpost is well nuanced and kept within a dynamic scope that is appetizing. Morgen is soft and inward, while Heimliche Aufforderung is well conceived but he should have avoided the full-throated treatment it gets here. Till havs, one of Jussi Björling’s signature songs, often requested at his recitals, especially in Sweden, shows much more bloom in the voice than in many places elsewhere. The sound is more ‘primitive’ so it may be an early recording. Among the best is Sibelius’s Säv, säv, susa, and the two encores, Rossini’s La Danza, sung with élan and brilliance, and Tosti’s Ideale bring this song recital beautiful end. I had my doubts concerning CD 1 and the 19 opera arias. A heavy task, especially concerning the accompaniment by piano instead of an orchestra. Most of these arias were also part of his father’s concert repertoire, but there are a few that were not. La mia letizia infondere from Verdi’s I Lombardi is one and it is full of life and vitality. Odio solo ed odio atroce from I due Foscari¸is another, light and with a certain swagger. The arias by Auber and Halévy were not in Jussi’s repertoire either, though less interesting in these readings. Among the rest he sings Di tu se fedele from Un ballo in maschera with quite some sap in the voice, obviously a song he feels for. Two Russian favourites are also on the agenda, of which Borodin’s Cavatina from Prince Igor is well sung with good enunciation and well nuanced. Like his father he sings it in Swedish. The Rimsky-Korsakov Chanson hindou from Sadko is sung in French and some of the French arias are among the best here. Ah! Lève-toi, Soleil! From Roméo et Juliette is fine with a soft pianissimo ending, and Instant charmant … En fermant les yeux is also among the best. Flower song, Amor ti vieta and Come un bel di di maggio are certainly heroic but a bit too heavy-handed. But the two concluding arias find him at his best. Addio alla madre from Cavalleria rusticana was often in Jussi BJörling’s recital programmes, invariably met by ovations, and Lars seems to have the same feeling for it – this is emotional singing. Che gelida manina also finds him at his most involved, and the diminuendo at the end is a worthy tribute to his father and grandfather. The quality of the recordings, made during a period of ten years, is variable, but it is never less than acceptable and mostly far more than that. The quality of the interpretations also varies, but the whole issue should not primarily be seen as a finished professional production; rather as a documentation of Lars Björling’s ambitions to pass on the methods of singing from David and Jussi Björling and make them available to the present and future generations. For this ambition this issue is worth attention." - Göran Forsling (Music Web Review)
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