Mozart; Weber; Beethoven; Wagner; Strauss

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COMPOSERS: Mozart; Weber; Beethoven; Wagner; Strauss
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Or sai chi l’onore
WORKS: Various arias
PERFORMER: Birgit Nilsson (soprano); various orchestras and conductors
CATALOGUE NO: 431 1072
This collection of excerpts (made in 1966-72) from Birgit Nilsson’s recordings for the Deutsche Grammophon label, now being

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re-circulated to mark her recent death, is an uneven disc, partly because she recorded many of her signature roles for other companies (Brünnhilde and Turandot, for example, are missing here). Highlights include the Liebestod from the Bayreuth Tristan (1966) and the final scene from Salome

(at the Metropolitan Opera’s farewell gala for Rudolf Bing in 1972), both conducted by Karl Böhm. In the climaxes of these passages Nilsson’s soaring, gleaming, effortlessly powerful sound gleefully vanquishes oversized orchestras. Her ability to do so made her one of the vocal wonders of her day, but Nilsson’s obvious relish of such challenges seems to constitute her only fully committed expressive manner; in the quieter stretches here, one senses that she sometimes makes a more dutiful than memorably insightful impression.

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Nor is Nilsson’s singing invariably technically polished when she doesn’t sing out (and intonation sometimes flies sharp when she does). Thus, her performances as Elisabeth (in Gerdes’s Tannhäuser), Donna Anna (Böhm’s Don Giovanni, with awkward, tentative passagework in ‘Non mi dir’), Rezia (Kubelik’s Oberon), and of Beethoven’s ‘Ah! Perfido’ (conducted here by Ferdinand Leitner) do not seem consistently confident or engaged, notwithstanding many awe-inspiring sounds. David Breckbill