MARIAN ANDERSON - LET FREEDOM RING !
V2481. MARIAN ANDERSON: First Restored Release of the fabled 9 April, 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., w. Kosti Vehanen (Pf.): ‘America’; ‘Ave Maria” (Schubert); Spirituals; LA FAVORITA – ‘O mio Fernando’.
Also a recently discovered live concert by MARIAN ANDERSON at Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, 27 Oct., 1961 is presented, in excellent sound, in its FIRST EVER RELEASE, w. Franz Rupp (Pf.): Songs by Brahms, Schubert, Kilpinen, Palmgren & Sibelius; Spirituals; SAMSON ET DALILA – Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix. Copenhagen, Falkoner Centret, Live Recital, 27 Oct., 1961. Includes a richly illustrated 24pp. booklet featuring detailed discussion by noted author Harlow Robinson. Restorations by John H. Haley of Harmony Restorations, LLC. (England) JSP Records JSP 683.
The use of Constitution Hall shamefully had been denied to her because she was African-American. As a result, the U.S. Government presented her in this open air concert that was attended by 75,000 people. Her courage made her a shining symbol for the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, but it was her stunning contralto voice and compelling musical artistry that created the palpable excitement of this historic event causing the sensation on that Easter Sunday, 9 April, 1939 heard on this CD.
“When the Daughters of the America Revolution refused in 1939 to rent out Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, for a recital by Marian Anderson, the event was famously moved to the stepsof the Lincoln Memorial. The backstory of this historic occasion is detailed beautifully in the booklet accompanying this CD, reprinting excerpts of Harlow Robinson’s biography of Sol Hurok, Anderson’s manager, who made the most of the attendant publicity. The DAR’s thinly veiled racism, causing First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign from the organization, gave the event a life of its own, and even though it was announced only nine days before the Easter Sunday on which it occurred, more than 75,000 people gathered to hear the great contralto. NBC Radio broadcast the recital, and for decades, recordings of the brief transmission (about half an hour) have circulated, in poor sound, riddled with distortion. This release of the first-ever restoration is miraculous, owing to the skill of John H. Haley, who removed distortion, echo and audience noise while presenting Anderson’s magnificent voice as well as possible.
The CD begins with the NBC announcer soft-pedaling the choice of venue by saying there was no hall big enough to accommodate the crowd. But Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes then delivers a pre-recital speech aimed at the DAR, with an undiluted call for racial equality – strong words for 1939, sad almost eighty years later, in such divisive times.
Accompanied by Finnish pianist Kosti Vehanen, her regular accompanist during those years, Anderson opens with ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’, which is particularly potent under the circumstances. She then launches into one of her showpieces, Donizetti’s ‘O mio Fernando’, from LA FAVORITA, commanding full attention by virtue of the innate dignity in her voice and her attention to text. The cavatina pours out on a stream of firm legato, her legendary low notes remarkable for their unforced richness. The cabaletta is energetic rather than blazing, but Anderson compensates with a striking cadenza to a high G-sharp and an impressive trill. You could quibble with some of the Italian diction, but why bother? It’s a majestic reading. Going from strength to strength, Anderson displays prodigious breath control in an intensely moving performance Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’. A pioneer in bringing spirituals to the concert stage, she closes with three of them—‘Gospel Train’, ‘Trampin’’ and ‘My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord’ (the third omitted from the broadcast because of time constraints). On ‘Gospel Train’, Anderson leans on words to emphasize that all are welcome aboard; ‘Trampin’’ plumbs the depths of her formidable chest voice to convey oppression, yearning and determination.
The balance of the CD is an excellent 1961 Copenhagen recital, unearthed and restored by Haley. Twenty-two years later, you would expect to hear her resources diminished. But Anderson, at sixty-four and in mature voice, remains on the breath, capable of all manner of expressive devices through the sound. Textual coloration replaces some of the former vocal plushness; it’s a trade-off that costs nothing in ultimate effect. The opening Handel aria never made it to tape, so the recorded program begins with two Brahms songs - a haunting ‘Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer’ and a ‘Von ewiger Liebe’ filled with driving intensity. Schubert’s ‘Die Forelle’ features direct storytelling, and the ‘Ave Maria’, compared with the 1939 rendition, is only slightly less effective. I hesitate to toss about the word ‘definitive’, especially with a song as widely recorded as ‘Erlkönig’, but, caution to the winds, Anderson’s reading - or, rather, living - of Schubert’s song seems to me unparalleled. Dalila’s ‘Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’, from the Saint-Saëns opera, finds the contralto vocally shaky, but ‘Comin’ Thro’ the Rye’ brims with charm. Two songs by Finnish composer Yrjö Kilpinen (sung in German) were likely introduced to Anderson by Vehanen; Sibelius’ ‘Den Judiska flickans sång’ is in an arrangement the composer created for Anderson (Sibelius was a fan and friend), and his famous ‘Svarta rosor’ is taken at a clip and sung in English. Half a dozen spirituals complete the program. Inevitably, ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’ excites the crowd, and it’s reprised. I was taken to an Anderson recital at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1959; the image of the diva, eyes closed, hands clasped at her waist, her cavernous voice delivering this song, is embedded in my memory.
Franz Rupp, Anderson’s accompanist from about 1940 until her retirement in 1965, supplies sensitive support and a great deal of stunning playing on this remarkable document.”
- Ira Siff, OPERA NEWS, March, 2017
“About a year ago JSP Records issued a sensational disc with a newly found concert with Jussi Björling, recorded at Falkoner Centret in Copenhagen. 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 piano 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’….What has been preserved is of such quality that had there been no other recordings of her, [this recital] 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….
The programme is, I believe, quite characteristic of her: some German Lieder - in particular Schubert who was close to her heart and the three songs by him….The sorrow she expresses at the end of ‘Erlkönig’ is even deeper here. Marian Anderson was, during the greater part of her career, a keen advocate of the music of Kilpinen and Sibelius…. 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 BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST was arranged specifically for her by Sibelius. As always, her spirituals make a special impact. She even had to reprise ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’.
No one with an interest in good singing can afford to be without this disc.”
- Göran Forsling, MusicWebInternational.com
“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 that which she felt constituted plain racial discrimination.
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. 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 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’s dramatic projection of the principals’ contest for the soul of the panicked child [in Erlkönig] 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 effect. After the Saint-Saëns, the selections remain relatively brief….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. 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 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.
Anderson then announces her first encore, H.T. Burleigh’s ‘Heav’n, Heav’n’. 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.”
—Gary Lemco, AUDIOPHILE AUDITION, 29 Oct., 2016
[After the 1939 Lincoln Memorial recital, Anderson spoke] "I am so overwhelmed, I just can't talk. I can't tell you what you have done for me today. I thank you from the bottom of my heart again and again."
- Marian Anderson, MY LORD, WHAT A MORNING, p.192.