Musical and social history are well served by this historic restoration devoted to the art of Marian Anderson.
Marian Anderson – Let Freedom Ring = TRAD: “America”; DONIZETTI: “Fia dunque vero…O mio Fernando” from La Favorita; SCHUBERT: Ave Maria; “Gospel Train”; “Trampin’”; BRAHMS: “Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer,” Op. 105, No. 2; “Von ewiger Liebe,” Op. 43, No. 1; SCHUBERT: “Die Forelle”; “Der Erlkoenig”; “Ave Maria”; SAINT-SAENS: “Mon couer s’ouvre a ta voix” from Samson et Dalila; “Comin’ Through the Rye”; KILPINEN: “Von zwei Rosen”; “Det var I varens ljusa tid”; SIBELIUS: Solitude from Belshazzar’s Feast; Black Roses; TRAD: Laeksin mina kesaeyoena kaeymaan; 8 Spirituals – Marian Anderson = JSP Records JSP683, 79:03 (11/4/16) *****:
Years ago, at an Atlanta concert that featured bass-baritone William Warfield, I asked him if Paul Robeson were a model or icon whom he followed. Obviously uncomfortable with my question, Warfield commented, “Why, no; if anyone were my ‘idol,’ it would have be Marian Anderson.” Philadelphia native Marian Anderson (1897-1993) remains a vital part of the Civil Rights Movement albeit less “volatile” a figure than Robeson – given the scandalous behavior of Constitution Hall manager Fred Hand and the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939, when Anderson was denied a concert venue, Hand’s having vowed, “No date will ever be available for Marian Anderson at Constitution Hall!” As is well-documented, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt – who had invited Anderson to appear at the White House in 1936 – intervened to arrange the historic Easter Sunday 9 April 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial, after Mrs. Roosevelt made a formal public announcement of her resignation from the DAR on the basis of what she felt constituted plain racial discrimination. I have always thought that the “R” could mean “revulsion,” “recidivism,” or “repugnance.” Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, who attended, voiced his support, claiming, “[The Lincoln Memorial] seems to me to be a good use of the public facilities.” Ickes would make a better impression at the concert before 75,000 people with his remark, “Genius draws no color line.”
The list of sponsors for Anderson’s concert reads like a contemporary Who’s Who: Eleanor Roosevelt, Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes, Katherine Hepburn, Associate Justice Hugo Black, Senator Robert Wagner, Secretary of the Navy Claude Swanson, conductors Walter Damrosch and Leopold Stokowski, and Washington Post editor Felix Morley. Impresario Sol Hurok has a back-story to all this, and the narrative has a vital telling in the accompanying booklet notes by Harlow Robinson. JSP complements the immediate historic occasion with a 27 October 1961 live concert at Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, in its debut release. Whether one purchases or investigates this sound document for its relationship to Civil Rights, the real issue remains the power and timbre of Marian Anderson’s voice, whose power moved Arturo Toscanini to exclaim, “Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.” Full credit to Restoration Engineer John H. Haley for the colossal work invested into making these important documents available in distinctly appreciable sound taken from NBC archives.
From her opening notes of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” Anderson arrests us with her fulsome chest-tone and clear articulation of the song, her pointed sincerity, with piano accompaniment by Kosti Vehanen. The coloratura, melismatic aria by Donizetti allows Anderson to demonstrate her flexibility capacity to shift registers, often skirting the soprano range. The Schubert “Ave Maria” has an expansive breadth, breathed in nasal and throaty tones, but rife with an intimacy that belies the 75,000 auditors of the occasion. Burleigh’s “Gospel Train” served Paul Robson, too, in its guise as “Get on Board Little Children.” Anderson provides its “democratic” sentiment an attractive lilt. “I’m Trampin’” by Edward Boatner elicits Anderson’s deep contralto, which some might call baritone. Her lyric “Tryin’ to make Heaven my home” might well symbolize what the potent Lincoln Memorial behind her represents.
From Copenhagen, Anderson opens with the Brahms song, “Ever lighter is my Slumber,” whose lovely melody graces his B-flat Piano Concerto. Even at 64 years of age, Anderson projects a resonantly firm voice, with only a slight waver when she shifts from low into middle register, some of the last notes’ decay short of breath. The brightness of her tone carries Schubert’s “Die Forelle” over Franz Rupp’s liquid keyboard. The note of the trout’s blood in the water signals a vivid intimation of mortality. Anderson’s “Ave Maria” here moves more briskly than in Washington, D.C. but no less ardent. Anderson’s “Der Erlkoenig” after Goethe has to me remained her calling card: even before Fischer-Dieskau, Anderson’s dramatic projection of the principals’ contest for the soul of the panicked child trembles with fiery anxiety. Her compressed “I’ll take you by force” will raise the hairs on the most inured heart. A different eroticism rises from Anderson in the fervent aria, “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice” from Samson et Dalila, sung in impeccable French. And do not underestimate the rounded tones that Rupp provides to sustain the affect of devoted though fatal rapture.
After the Saint-Saens, the selections remain relatively brief, beginning with the Irish traditional song, “Comin’ Through the Rye” in a rendition that would have touched even such a doubtful heart as that of Holden Caulfield. The two Kilpinen songs, in German, convey the ephemeral character of nature and love. After a dark lyric from Selim Palmgren, Anderson gives us two lyrics by Jean Sibelius, the first of which, from Belshazzar’s Feast, the composer arranged specifically for her. If one recalls the love song that appears in the 1940 film Thief of Bagdad, he has captured the same diaphanous sentiment.
Anderson sings Sibelius’ “Black Roses” in English, and it resonates with the same power as the Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” The six concluding spirituals testify to an artistic faith that completely identifies with religious conviction. “On that Resurrection day, ain’t no hidin’ sheep,” Anderson reminds us in “Done Foun’ My Los’ Sheep.” The familiar “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in the Hamilton Forrest arrangement receives Anderson’s andante, dolce e marcato treatment, and she reprises it then and there. That “Little, bitsy baby in His Hands” ought to break every hardened heart.
Rupp blasts forth in “My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord,” and Anderson confirms the declaration. Anderson then announces her first encore, H.T. Burleigh’s “Heav’n, Heav’n.” “All God’s children’s got a heart,” she intones, intending to shout the Good News “all over God’s Heaven.” Lastly, Anderson announces, “O What a Beautiful City!,” arranged by Edward Boatner. With each of the points of the compass, Anderson adjusts her flexible voice, still illumined by that rare gift of music at every measure girded by an unquenchable faith.