Marian Anderson suffered from several circumstances, but always endured them, it appeared, with grace and dignity. She suffered from being black at a time when black persons were not taken seriously as classical artists, and she was simply not allowed to sing in many venues. She was forbidden the stage of the Metropolitan Opera until past her prime (1955). After she became an icon of the civil rights movement, her reputation as a singer became overshadowed. Miss Anderson's treatment by her own countrymen for much of her life was an abomination, but it had nothing to do with music. Modest as she was about all aspects of her life, I don't think she would want her artistry relegated to a footnote in social history!
This is a fine collection of Marian Anderson's singing in oratorio and spirituals. None of her wonderful opera arias or lieder are here, and those call for a separate volume. Miss Anderson stood out from many great singers in her fine understanding of the subtle differences among all of these genres. She used different tone colors and types of vocal production for each of them, as appropriate, a nicety seldom enough observed today. In other words, she was no "belter." We have singers nowadays making millions for yelling at the top of their lungs, and sometimes making multi-millions for trying to out-yell their colleagues in giant arena events closely simulating cattle-call competitions. Perhaps one needs to meditate quietly for an hour or so before attempting to share the more inward and spiritual artistry of Marian Anderson.
From the first selection here (out of over 72 minutes of music included), "Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen" from Bach's Cantata No. 81, one can only marvel at the tonal beauty, depth of feeling, immediacy of communication, and technical accomplishment of the great contralto. In this aria, the long-held word "schläft" is not just thrilling as a piece of vocalism, but does just what Bach meant it to: express the gentle, timeless, cosmic-yet in this case ominous-slumber of the Savior. Seldom, outside of Miss Anderson's singing, have these Bach arias so risen above the "sewing-machine" school of performance. Her style is freer and warmer in the spirituals, which no one but Paul Robeson sang as impressively. There are eleven of them here, though not her most famous, "He's got the whole world in his hands." That too must be acquired elsewhere, as is easily done. There are no cheap shots in this anthology, just great performances of great music with no playing to the grandstands.