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FERRIER - A CAREER RECORDED

by Paul Campion

Thames Elkin ISBN 0-903413-71-X 244pp. £19.99


 

Contents. Foreword by Bryn Terfel; Introduction; The Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship; The Kathleen Ferrier Cancer Research Fund; The Kathleen Ferrier Archive; The Kathleen Ferrier Society; Illustration Sources and Credits; Foreword to the First Edition by Dame Janet Baker; On Recording.

Part I - The Career. Chapter One, January-June 1944; Chapter Two, July-December 1944; Chapter Three, January-June 1945; Chapter Four, July-December 1945; Chapter Five, January-June 1946; Chapter Six, July-December 1946; Chapter Seven, January-June 1947; Chapter Eight, July-December 1947; Chapter Nine, January-June 1948; Chapter Ten, July-December 1948; Chapter Eleven, January-June 1949; Chapter Twelve, July-December 1949; Chapter Thirteen, January-June 1950; Chapter Fourteen, July-December 1950; Chapter Fifteen, January-June 1951; Chapter Sixteen, July-December 1951; Chapter Seventeen, January-June 1952; Chapter Eighteen, July-December 1952; Chapter Nineteen, January-June 1953; Chapter Twenty, Recordings that might have been; Chapter Twenty-One, Kathleen Ferrier on film; Chapter Twenty-Two, Some commemorative UK broadcasts and a DVD.

Part II - Discography. Disc and Tape List - Introduction; Disc and Tape List - Issue numbers and dates; Disc and Tape List - Title-by-title listing.

Bibliography; Recordings by composer; General Index

For someone whose life and career has made her an icon in the music world, an artist whose appeal to generations has endured over so many years, it is a source of constant wonder to me that we are here remembering a woman who was with us as a singer for only ten years, and only half that to her many admirers in Europe and North America. Without any of the negative implications of ambition (for example ruthlessness), Ferrier’s career progressed not only because of her huge talent and wondrous voice, but also because she was invariably in the right place at the right time to meet those who were able to help her. A chain-link fence of acquaintances built up from 1942 including Alfred Barker, Sargent, John Tillett, Myra Hess, Barbirolli, Reginald Jacques, Pears, Britten, the Christies and Rudolph Bing at Glyndebourne then Edinburgh, via Bruno Walter to the USA, and to Holland via Peter Diamand, and so on. All she had to do was open her mouth, produce that glorious sound and at the same time be herself.

This book first appeared 13 years ago, and in recent times it has been very hard to get a copy even in the second-hand market. It will therefore be welcomed by the many admirers of our greatest contralto who died just over half a century ago in 1953, but I also strongly recommend it to those who already possess the original book for there is a considerable amount of new material in this new edition. The prospect of reading a discography is not usually an attractive task, but this is an exception. Paul Campion has dipped into the biographies, the letters and diaries edited by this reviewer, press reports, BBC and record company archives, and his own correspondence with providers of information and material. The result is a highly readable book as well as an invaluable source of information for those who want exact chapter and verse on Ferrier’s recording work. What is staggering is the amount of material which has not reached commercial outlets, what is agonisingly frustrating is the amount of music she either could have recorded but didn’t, or did record but is since lost. One can only throw one’s hands up in horror at the ridiculous contract system which prevailed in the post-war years, so that artists who wanted to work together (Ferrier with Barbirolli being a prime example) could not do so because of obligations to their record companies (usually EMI and Decca). That the BBC either failed to record certain works or did so but then destroyed or lost them (Britten’s Abraham and Isaac written for Pears and Ferrier at the end of her life) is an absolute disgrace. As the author so correctly writes, ‘there is still so much that might have been’. That Ferrier never recorded any Elgar apart from test pressings of two small extracts from Dream of Gerontius and a verse and chorus of Land of Hope and Glory from a live performance at the re-opened Free Trade Hall in Manchester in November 1951 is nothing short of a tragedy. A promise to her from Decca of a complete Messiah was scandalously never realised. One can only hope that off-air recordings exist somewhere in private homes and will eventually be unearthed and released, for surely her Elgar must have been glorious and is sorely lacking on our record shelves. I gather as much at the illustrated talks I give on her Letters and Diaries and her Life from people who recall her singing, either as members of the audience or among the ranks of choristers behind her on the concert platform.

So ‘new’ material, in other words recordings which have been discovered or rediscovered during the 13 years between the two editions of this book, tends to be the repertoire which already exists in other versions, such as another Das Lied von der Erde or Alto Rhapsody. The author has a safe pair of hands when it comes to his knowledge of matters Ferrier, but his unbounded love and enthusiasm for her voice is the great motivator. This fascinating book is more than up to date, even alerting the reader to forthcoming discs by Pearl to be issued this coming autumn. It also discusses the brief footage of extant film (the party in New York and her arrival at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport), and the celebratory radio programmes and filmed documentary for TV and DVD made in 2003 by Forget about it Films (what a curiously inappropriate name for a company working on a project about such a memorable artist!). This book is a highly enjoyable read, lavishly illustrated with copious photographs of her, her friends and professional colleagues, so it is clearly a must for all Ferrier enthusiasts. She will never grow old. Like filmstars Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, Kathleen Ferrier will remain forever in the public’s mind as she looked and as she sounded when she died at the tragically young age of 41.

Christopher Fifield



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