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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 – 1750)
Mass in B minor: Qui Sedes [5.47] Agnus Dei [5.44]
St. Matthew Passion: Grief for Sin [6.07]
St. John Passion: All is fulfilled [5.24]
Cantata BWV11 Praise to God [25.55] *
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Samson: Return O God of Hosts [4.31]
Messiah: O Thou, that tellest [5.42] He was despised [6.45]
Judas Maccabeus: Father of Heaven [7.55]
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto)
Ena Mitchell (soprano)*, William Herbert (tenor)*
William Parsons (bass)*
Basil Lam (harpsichord continuo)
Thomas Lofthouse (harpsichord continuo)*
Cantata Singers*
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Jacques Orchestra/Reginald Jacques*
rec. 7-8 October, 1952, Kingsway Hall, London ; 6 October, 1&3 November 1949, Kingsway Hall, London*
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111295 [73.49]

Experience Classicsonline

There are two pieces of good news for Ferrier admirers here. The first is that the Cantata Lobet gott in seinen Reichen BWV 11 – sung in its English translation Praise to God – is making its first CD appearance. The other is that those pretty wretched ‘stereo’ arias – in which Boult was asked to overlay 1960 stereo accompaniments to Ferrier’s 1952 mono originals – are replaced by the original mono recordings. Decca is still peddling those ‘remakes’, most recently on its two disc Tribute set [475078-2] about which the Ferrier Custodians – who are, like Ferrier detractors, generally an over-compensatory bunch of axe-grinders – remain apparently blessedly ignorant, or naively acquiescent. 
 
These Bach and Handel sides are woven into the tapestry of Ferrier’s discography and those from Messiah in particular alert one to that most tantalising of omissions – along with Gerontius – from her commercially recorded list. It was offered to her as an inducement to sign for Decca. By the time the recording was made, with Boult in 1953, Ferrier was near death and her place was taken by Norma Procter. Ferrier’s statuesque nobility permeates these arias. The Mass in B arias - Agnus Dei and Qui sedes - also reminds one tangentially of the live recording with von Karajan that is so prominent a reminder of her collaboration with him (it’s on Guild GHCD 2260/2) and similarly with Enescu conducting (BBC BBCL40082 and Somm-Ariadne 5000; go for the latter transfer). One should also note that He was Despised, the second of the Messiah arias here, is shorn of its B section - He gave his back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them etc. This has the effect of turning it into a simplified legato lament, with the resultant loss of internal dramatic contrast and subsequent intensification of emotive states. It would be interesting to know if this was Ferrier’s habit in concert performances.
 
The Cantata recording was made in 1949. The orchestral playing here is rather more tangy than that of the LPO for Boult, which favoured a more all-pupose piety. The Jacques Orchestra made a number of recordings under its founder Reginald Jacques and both conductor and the other soloists were on familiar terms with Ferrier, not least from the various singers’ exhausting jaunts around the country in wartime and in the immediate post-war period. Basil Lam is the – happily – audible harpsichord continuo player and the brightness of the strings – with a touch of asperity – is matched by the forthright contribution of the winds. The recording as such is not ideal, emphasising the choral sibilants, for example, in a rather swimmy kind of a way – but it’s certainly serviceable. This has probably not been CD transferred before now because of Ferrier’s limited participation – one aria and one recitative – but it was worth doing and has been well transferred.
 
Given the foregoing the Ferrier completist will note that her CD discography has taken a firm step forward with this well-transferred disc.
 
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Robert Hugill

 


 


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