WORKS: Songs & folksongs
PERFORMER: Paul Robeson (bass)Alexander Yeroklin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: RV70004 ADD mono
The legendary American singer Paul Robeson deserves a special place in musical history not only as a magnificent performer of negro spirituals, but also as a passionate defender of civil rights and a staunch opponent of all forms of political oppression. In waging this crusade in the late Forties, Robeson inevitably became embroiled in the politics of the Cold War: he was much revered in the Soviet Union but denounced as a Communist by the McCarthyites in his native country.
Yet this extraordinary concert, given in Moscow in 1949 at the height of the anti-Jewish purges, demonstrates that Robeson was hardly a puppet of Stalinism. While the earlier items in his recital – which include performances of revolutionary songs in Spanish and Chinese – would have met with enthusiastic approval from the Soviet hierarchy, it must surely have been dismayed by the final item on the programme: a highly emotional rendition, in Yiddish, of the Song of the Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion. It is dedicated to the memory of the Soviet-Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels, who had recently been murdered on Stalin’s orders. Not surprisingly, the censors cut Robeson’s defiant introductory remarks, though the performance, and the fervent response from the audience, speaks greater volumes than any words. Such moments seem to defy conventional critical appraisal. Erik Levi