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Paul Robeson (1898-1976): Songs of Struggle
ROBINSON and HAYES Joe Hill (1942) [2:29]
TRADITIONAL John Henry (1945) [2:36]
ANONYMOUS, arr. EISLER The Peat-Bog Soldiers (Moorsoldaten) (1942) [2:24]
ANONYMOUS
Kevin Barry (1947) [2:11]
ANONYMOUS The Four Insurgent Generals (1947) [2:28]
BLITZSTEIN The Purest Kind Of Guy (Joe’s Birthday Song) (1942) [3:19]
DZERZHINSKY From Border To Border (1942) [2:24]
DZERZHINSKY Oh, How Proud Our Quiet Don (1942) [3:17]
MUSSORGSKY Within Four Walls (1942) [3:29]
DONAYEVSKY Native Land (1942) [2:18]
ANONYMOUS, arr. KNIPPER Song Of The Plains (Red Army Song) (1942) [3:04]
GRETCHANINOV Cradle Song (1942) [3:50]
E. PURCELL and HERRICK Passing By (1938) [2:18]
WEATHERLY and ADAMS Thora (1930) [3:29]
GRAVES, arr. WOOD Love At My Heart (1939) [2:02]
WILLIAMS and LOWELL Ebenezer (1939) [2:26]
ANSELL and DRYENFORTH Lazini (1937) [2:44]
KILYENI Encantodora Maria (1938) [2:38]
JACOBS-BAND and STANTON Just A Wearyin’ For You (1938) [2:33]
HANDY St. Louis Blues (1934) [3:26]
STRICKLAND Mah Lindy Lou (1932) [3:11]
G. GERSHWIN and I. GERSHWIN Summertime (1938) [2:33]
TRADITIONAL, arr. BROWN Swing Low Sweet Chariot (1933) [2:43]
KERN and HAMMERSTEIN III Ol’ Man River (1927) [3:49]
BLAKE The Little Black Boy (1939) [2:16]
Paul Robeson, vocals
Lawrence Brown, piano
New Mayfair Orchestra/Clifford Greenwood and Ray Noble Recorded 1927-1947 AAD
REGIS RECORDS RRC1229 [71:15]

Paul Robeson was an American treasure. He had one of the most powerful and celebrated voices of his generation. Perhaps more importantly, he was one of the heroes of the civil rights movement. As early as 1924 he was performing on stage in Britain and the US in roles that were very unlike the stereotypes normally promoted when he was cast as a black lawyer who marries a white woman in All God’s Chillun Got Wings. He was later cast as Othello to rave reviews in both the UK and US.
 
His entire life was spent combating inequality in one form or another. On his tombstone is his personal statement that “The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.” Thus this particular compilation of music highlighting both Robeson’s strong voice as well as his stronger convictions is extremely appropriately themed. Much of this music is about political struggle. Other pieces concern the simple struggle to continue life in the face of tribulation. They all display a worldly strength and the understanding of a man that clearly was familiar with these emotions.
 
The performances are often quite minimal, using only a piano and solo voice. This is highly appropriate to these works, as this lends a highly personal atmosphere. Additionally it brings solid focus to the incredible talent that Robeson possessed. The symphony-accompanied performances are equally strong from Robeson, but less strong musically. The orchestration is unmistakably that of a radio orchestra from the 1940s. When that sound is properly employed, it is a good sound. When it is little more than a lush transcription of piano accompaniments, there are many times that the piano would be preferred. The lone exception here is Love At My Heart, which includes a male chorus as well as the orchestra, reinforcing the arrangement in a way unlike the majority of the other string works.
 
The recordings are quite well produced with minimal tape hiss and no noticeable album noise. The fidelity is bright and far better than many vintage recordings. Generally this seems to be a project that the production team truly cared about.
 
As the work is by a true master, and the pieces are among the highlights of his career, this is a collection that can be truly recommended.
 
Patrick Gary

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