Let Freedom Ring!
Marian Anderson (contralto) Kosti Vehanen (piano) (tr. 3-8), Franz Rupp (piano) (trs. 10-28)
rec. Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. 9 April 1939 (trs. 1-9); Copenhagen, 27 October 1961 (trs. 10-28) Live broadcast recording - first restored release
(Washington) JSP RECORDS JSP683 [79:03]
About a year ago JSP Records issued a sensational disc with a newly found concert with Jussi Björling, recorded at Falkoner Centret in Copenhagen (review). Now comes a recital from the same source with another fixed star in the vocal firmament: the American contralto Marian Anderson. In both cases the material, from what is obviously a hitherto unknown goldmine, has been lovingly restored by John H. Haley. Coupled with the recital is a restoration of the legendary concert, broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on Easter Sunday in 1939.
The U.S. Government had planned to present her at Constitution Hall but was denied access to the hall because Marian Anderson was African American. Instead they installed a grand on the steps of the monument, where Ms Anderson and her regular accompanist Kosti Vehanen performed in front of an audience of 75,000. In the booklet with this issue there is a photo, taken from the Memorial steps. One can understand the feelings Marian Anderson had when she looked out over the crowd: “I felt for a moment as though I were choking. For a desperate second I thought that the words, well as I know them, would not come.” She also felt the positive atmosphere from the audience, and what we hear on this disc – in amazingly good sound – is a singer with strong confidence and the voice in excellent condition. She was 42 at the time and we recognize all the qualities that we know from some of her most famous recordings, made more or less at the same time. Ave Maria, for instance, was recorded in 1936. Here the tempo is slightly more expansive, possibly due to the importance of the occasion. The roundness of the tone, the quick vibrato, the warmth of the delivery, the finely shaded nuances – all those characteristics that made Toscanini exclaim: “Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.” Most impressive of all is her deep register. Listen to Trampin’- you won’t hear something similar anywhere in the world today. Although she had no stage experience of opera she sings the aria from La Favorita with deep involvement and great warmth. Unfortunately her last announced number, My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord, was omitted from the NBC broadcast, due to time constraints, as was her encore, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen. What has been preserved is of such quality that had there been no other recordings of her, these five numbers would be enough to render her a place at the top of the Pantheon of great singers. So for musical reasons this restored concert is a valuable addition to her discography in itself. The historic importance of the concert is even greater. The booklet reveals in detail the many turnabouts before the concert could be arranged, a concert that reached millions through the NBC broadcast and became the starting shot for opposition against US discrimination policies. Marian Anderson became a symbol for the civil rights movement. So important was this concert that when Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on 28 August 1963, he did it from exactly the same spot on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where she had sung all those years earlier.
When Marian Anderson visited Copenhagen in 1961 she had already reached the venerable age of 64, an age that for many singers implies that retirement is imminent. Not so for Ms Anderson, who continued singing another four years. In the meantime she had also made another historic imprint in the annals of the civil rights movement when she as the first black singer appeared on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera on 7 January 1955 as Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera. She recorded Re dell’abisso two days later and listening to that recording again told me that her voice was still in mint condition. Less so six years later but it is still basically the ‘old’ Marian, although her vibrato has loosened slightly; surprisingly little considering her age. Her artistry is just as refined as ever, but what we are spared, thanks to John Haley’s meticulous restoration work, is her occasional insecure intonation. This seems to have – to some degree at least – the effect of a quite complicated surgery in the late 1940s when a tumour was removed. Haley has been able to correct the pitch in those places where she sings out of tune, and consequently she sings better on the disc than what the audience in Copenhagen heard.
The programme is, I believe, quite characteristic of her: some German Lieder – in particular Schubert was close to her heart and the three songs by him – which by the way were on an EP I bought very early in my record collecting career – are just as finely nuanced here as they were back in the 1930s. The sorrow she expresses at the end of Erlkönig is even deeper here. Her voice is also ideal for the melancholy of the Brahms songs. Dalila’s Mon coeur s’ouvre is filled with both (faked) love and dramatic intensity. It would have been a treat to hear her in the complete role when she was in her prime but then she would never have been able to carry on her career for so long.
Marian Anderson was, during the greater part of her career, a keen advocate of the music of Kilpinen and Sibelius. She was even awarded the Order of the White Rose, Finland’s highest civilian order in recognition of service to Finnish art and culture. Kilpinen was, before the war, the internationally best known Finnish composer, next to Sibelius, primarily through his almost 800 songs. Both composers are represented with two songs each and the song from Belsazar’s Feast was arranged specifically for her by Sibelius. Somewhat surprisingly she sings Svarta rosor in English translation. As we know from her recordings her Swedish was excellent.
As always, her spirituals make a special impact. She even had to reprise He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, and My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord, which was omitted from the Lincoln Memorial concert, gets a really strong reading. Heav’n, Heav’n explores the upper end of her four-octaves voice with bright silvery tone.
The two pianists, Kosti Vehanen and Franz Rupp, were regular accompanists to Marian Anderson, Rupp during the last 25 years of Anderson's career. Vehanen also wrote a book about Marian Anderson. Their contributions further enhance the importance of this disc.
No one with an interest in good singing can afford to be without this disc.
Track listing 1. Opening announcement [1:05]
2. Speech by U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes [3:39]
3. Traditional: America (My Country, 'tis of Thee) [2:03] Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
4. Fia dunque vero … O mio Fernando … Scritto in cielo [5:38] Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
5. Ave Maria (Ellens dritter Gesang), D 839 (Op. 52 No. 6) [6:00]
6. Intermission announcements [4:39]
7. Spiritual: Gospel Train (arr. H.T. Burleigh) [1:31]
8. Spiritual: Trampin’ (arr. Edward H. Boatner) [3:24]
9. Closing announcement [0:17]
Concert at Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, 27 October 1961. Live recording, first ever release. Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
10. Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer, Op. 105, No. 2 [3:15]
11. Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 43, No. 1 [3:44] Franz SCHUBERT
12. Die Forelle, D 550 (Op. 32) [1:59]
13. Ave Maria (Ellens dritter Gesang), D 839 (Op. 52, No. 6) [4:49]
14. Erlkönig, D 328 (Op. 1) [3:51] Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
Samson et Dalila:
15. Mon coeur s’ouvre ā ta voix [4:48]
16. Traditional: Comin’ Through the Rye [1:39] Yrjö KILPINEN (1892 – 1959)
17. Von zwei Rosen, Op. 59, No. 3 [1:41]
18. Det var i vårens ljusa tid, Op. 45, No. 2 (sung in German as Es war zur holden Lenzeszeit) [1:28]
19. Traditional: Läksin minä kesäyönä käymään (arr. Selim Palmgren) [2:05] Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957)
Belsazars gästabud, Op. 51:
20. Den judiska flickans sång (or Solitude) (arranged for Marian Anderson by Sibelius) [2:47]
21. Svarta rosor, Op. 36, No. 1 (sung in English as Black Roses) [1:41]
22. Spiritual: Done Foun’ My Los’ Sheep (arr. J Rosamund Johnson) [3:06]
23. Spiritual: Hold On! (arr. Harold Johnson) [2:40]
24. Spiritual: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands (arr. Hamilton Forrest) [2:30]
25. Spiritual: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands (reprise) [2:27]
26. Spiritual: My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord (arr. Florence B Price) [1:47]
27. Spiritual: Heav’n, Heav’n (arr. H T Burleigh) [2:27]
28. Spiritual: O What a Beautiful City! (arr. Edward Boatner) [2:21]