Marian Anderson

Singers to Remember: Marian Anderson

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This British collectors' release has the stated aim of focusing on less-familiar aspects of Marian Anderson's art. As such, it contains some real revelations. The recordings were made between 1946 and 1955, late in the 78 rpm era, when Anderson (who concealed her 1897 birthdate) was between 49 and 58 years old; as with Satchel Paige, modern observers get to witness only the last phase of her remarkable career. The opening selections by Bach and Handel reveal both Anderson's eerily lofty, slightly theremin-like vibrato in her upper register (hear the opening "Erbarme dich, mein Gott," from the St. Matthew Passion) and her intense gravity in sacred pieces in the golden middle of her register. The Handel and Mendelssohn oratorio arias attest to her skill in projecting text; part of the reason she made such an impact at huge outdoor concerts was that people could understand what she was singing. Her involvement with text comes to the fore in a group of Schubert lieder, tracks 9-15, that form the centerpiece of the program. They are extraordinary readings. Three standards -- Erlkönig, Gretchen am Spinnrade, and Ave Maria -- are lively and fully fleshed-out, with a vivid but not overdone characterization of the evil spirit and the child in Erlkönig. But things only get better from there. Anderson hits a profound low D, the bane of contraltos, in Der Tod und das Mädchen, and her performance of Der Doppelgänger, a song female performers often avoid, is intense and rather frightening. She makes the song sound as though it was composed later than the little Brahms Die Schunur, die Perl an Perle that follows. Most of the lieder are accompanied by Franz Rupp, but Der Tod und das Mädchen features Kosti Vehanen, the Finnish pianist who joined Anderson for her legendary 1930s appearances. Throughout, Anderson's intonation is beyond precise, seeming to take on eerie microtonal dimensions within the extent of a single note. Anderson was partly trained in Germany, and those who know Anderson only through spirituals and operatic selections owe it to themselves to hear what she could do in German music of more intimate dimensions.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
St. Matthew Passion (Matthäuspassion), for soloists, double chorus & double orchestra, BWV 244 (BC D3b)
1
7:50
Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio), in six parts, BWV 248 (BC D7)
2
5:09
Cantata No. 112, "Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt," BWV 112 (BC A67)
3
4:00
St. John Passion (Johannespassion), BWV 245 (BC D2)
4
6:56
Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56
5
4:05
6
5:11
Elijah (Elias), oratorio, Op. 70
7
4:38
Paulus (Saint Paul), oratorio, Op. 36
8
3:42
9
4:13
10
3:24
11
5:33
12
3:02
13
4:03
14
2:45
15
3:59
16
2:47
17
4:43
blue highlight denotes track pick