Uploaded on Oct 5, 2008
(Arditi) / Recorded: 1911 / Speed: 76 rpm
American contralto Janet Spencer had a successful career in concert and oratorio. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she made her debut at the age of 16 when she appeared with the Boston Festival Orchestra, touring later throughout the United States and Europe. She was an intimate friend of Geraldine Farrar, encouraging Miss Farrar in her Met career. In her later years she gave voice lessons in Hollywood, California, where she died in 1948 at the age of 74.
THE NEW YORK TIMES, 04 November 1910
MISS SPENCER'S RECITAL / Admirable Singing of Interesting Songs in Mendelssohn Hall
Few singers now before this public have developed their art so rapidly and in so many of its exacting phases as Miss Janet Spencer, contralto, who gave a song recital yesterday afternoon at Mendelssohn Hall. It was an occasion that offered an altogether unusual pleasure on account both of the interesting program of songs and of the truly remarkable skill, versatility and fine artistic power with
which she sang them. Miss Spencer's admirable contralto voice has been well known in New York concert halls for a number of years now, where it has been heard chiefly in oratorios. In turning her attention to songs she has penetrated deeply into a form of art that is in certain respects more subtle and more difficult.
Miss Spencer's voice is well remembered as a peculiarly rich contralto which she uses with freedom and spontaneity of utterance and with excellent style in most of the fundamentals of production, and in such matters as the control of breath and phrasing. Her diction might be a little clearer and more polished than it is, though it is by no means poor. And there are occasionally heard traces of the
tendency to shade off from the tune pitch that once marred Miss Spencer's singing. But none of these are sufficient to impair seriously the great pleasure that her singing of songs gives. She has penetrated into the secrets of many
different styles, and she has an altogether uncommon aptitude of identifying sentiments and emotions of her different songs and of setting them forth in a vivid and characteristic manner that is one of the essentials of the highest art in song singing.
She began with the splendidly vigorous air, "Et Exaltavit," from Bach's "Magnificat," which she sang last Spring in the Oratorio Society's performance of that work, and her singing imparted to it its true splendor and its vigor. Far from Bach's spirit were two ariettas by Gluck, the caressing "On s'etonnerait moins" from "Armide," and the delightfully arch little "Je cherche a vous faire" from an opera stated to be "Les Pelerins de Mecque," (though its French title should be "Le Rencontre Imprevu,") which she sang with most ingratiating charm. There was another sudden change of mood to Handel's fiery "Furibondo spira il Vento." It is not often given to this public to hear in Handel's most rapid
"divisions" such clearness, brilliancy, and apparent ease as was heard in Miss Spencer's delivery of this air, which was splendidly vigorous. Her Brahms songs were three that are of less known, though very beautiful ones, and also in
marked contrast of mood, which she most aptly characterized. With these were consorted two truly fine and original songs by Henry Hadley, songs which Miss Spencer ought to be thanked for introducing here: "Stille, traumende Fruhlingsnacht," and "Morgengesang." The former, especially, is laden with the dreamy fragrance of the Spring night, a song full of atmosphere.
There was special interest in five Russian songs by Borodine and Moussorgsky, of original and characteristic quality, characterisitic, rather, of the composers than of their nationality, though the Russian fondness for the Oriental strain was clearly to be heard in Moussorgsky's "Chant de Josua Navine," which Miss Spencer sang in what may be supposed to be the original Russian. There was
also to be heard his quaint "Chanson d'Enfant," something of that influence that is said to have operated strongly in forming the style of Debussy. Bordine's brilliant "Dissonance" Miss Spencer had to repeat. Her English songs were by Engel, Ware, Mallinson, and Heyman, and the "Beyond" by Engel showed what could be done after Debussy, as Moussorgsky showed what could be done
ITEM: Read an interesting account of this November 1910 concert by Miss Spencer's accompanist, Elizabeth Harbison David, in the notes to JANET SPENCER PERFORMS THE MOON DROPS LOW (1911).
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