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Kathleen Ferrier – An Ordinary Diva
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice; What is Life to me without thee?
LSO/Malcolm Sargent
Che puro ciel
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Southern Philharmonic Orchestra/Fritz Stiedry
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Rodelinda; Art Thou Troubled? (Arranged HAYM)
Judas Maccabaeus; Father of Heaven
Messiah; O Thou that tellest good tidings to Zion
LPO/Adrian Boult
LSO/Malcolm Sargent
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St. Matthew Passion; Erbame Dich (Have Mercy, Lord, On Me)
David McCallum (violin)
National Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
An die Musik D547
Der Musensohn D764
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Du bist die Ruh’ D776
Bruno Walter (piano)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Come you not from Newcastle arranged Benjamin BRITTEN
Frederick Stone (piano)
The Keel Row arranged William Gillies WHITTAKER
Ma Bonny Lad arranged William Gillies WHITTAKER
Blow the wind southerly arranged William Gillies WHITTAKER
Down by the Sally Gardens arranged HUGHES
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
3 Rückert-Lieder: Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen; Ich atmeteinen linden Duft; Um Mitternacht
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter
Talk by Ferrier; What the Edinburgh Festival has meant to me (1949)
Recorded 1946-52
DVD DOCUMENTARY by Suzanne Phillips (director) Valerie Croft (producer) David M Jackson (executive producer); Kathleen Ferrier, An Ordinary Diva. DVD also contains Ferrier picture gallery, Decca Discography, original Decca record covers and recording cards.
DECCA 475 6291 DX2 [CD: 77.14; DVD: 58.38]


The core of this release is a DVD shown on BBC television and with it is a CD that amplifies the biographical and musical material. The documentary uses her diary and letters and we hear from Christopher Fifield, who edited them for publication, and Paul Campion, who compiled her discography. We also get a segment from Campion’s appearance on BBC television’s Mastermind (Specialist Subject; the Life of Kathleen Ferrier), which is perhaps pushing it a bit. The biography gives us the only known preserved film and newsreel of Ferrier, variously elegant and charming when arriving at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport for one of her many Dutch tours and when gloriously inebriated at a New York party – full of eyeball rolling, and plenty of tomfoolery. I’d rather have had the precious footage uninterrupted but I understand that this is a minority view. Her diaries and letters are read by the actress Patricia Routledge whose voice sounds nothing like the rather RP accent Ferrier adopted for her 1949 talk on the Edinburgh Festival preserved on the CD. A few open vowels point to her Lancastrian birth but not much more.

We see and hear Britten, George Christie, Evelyn Barbirolli and Janet Baker, who mentions the rounded county vowels, and from John Barbirolli and Bruno Walter – both full of benign wisdom, though Walter is recorded as having asked Barbirolli what he’d done to Ferrier’s voice; the English conductor had got her to sing Chausson to increase Ferrier’s range at the top. The blurry reconstructions (taking a bow, greeting friends) are filmed as if through muslin – evocative for some or merely decorative flannel for others. But the music is poignantly chosen. When we hear from one contributor that, increasingly confident in her international success, “Ferrier dictated the terms” we hear her on the soundtrack singing I Know Where I’m Going. As we hear news of her cancer we hear Erbame Dich. Such moments of care are telling.

The CD gives us much known Ferrier but also some that will be unfamiliar. There’s Che faro but the Sargent version this time and Che puro ciel with Stiedry, whom Ferrier loathed. Is that Stiedry humming along at 3.20? An die Musik (with Phyllis Spurr) is rather scuffy – surely a better copy could have been used – along with the famous Ferrier gag title, Art Thou Troubled By G. F. Handel. The folk songs are here – they could hardly be otherwise – and the Handel/Boult complete with harpsichord in Judas Maccabaeus and stunningly fine diction in O thou that tellest. The turn over in the double-sided Bach – with David McCallum the sweet-toned violin soloist – has been roughly done. Walter appears as piano accompanist, approximate but full of wisdom, from the live Usher Hall recital and as conductor in the Mahler.

The bonus features on the DVD include stills of original Decca record covers and recording cards, a Decca discography and a picture gallery. The later photographs preserve her unquenchable spirit despite unremitting pain – a beauty dimmed and made gaunt through suffering.

Jonathan Woolf

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