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Kathleen Ferrier (contralto) (1912-1953)
Gustav MAHLER (1901-1973)

Nunn will die Sonn'
Nun seh'ich wohl
Wenn dein Mütterlein
Oft denk' ich
In diesem Wetter
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter. Rec. 1949.
Drei Rückert Liederen
No.1 Ich atmet' einen linden Duft
No.4 Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
No.5 Um Mitternacht
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter. Rec. 1952
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Vier Ernste Gesänge op.121

No.1 Denn es gehet dem Menschen
No.2 Ich wandte mich und sahe
No.3 O Tod, wie bitter
No.4 Wenn ich mit Menschen - und mit Engehzungen redete
John Newmark (Piano), Rec. 1950
Gestille Sehnsucht Op.91, No.1.

Geistliches Wiegenlied Op.91, No.2.

Max Gilbert (viola) and Phyllis Spurr (piano). Rec. 1949
REGIS RRC 1153 [68.19]


It is said that the nuptials of some mortals are made in heaven. There are a few musical liaisons that must have been made in a place beyond even there. Such liaisons are forged from a unification of individual genius and artistic outlook in artists mining a common vein of musicality. Such occurred with Janet Baker and John Barbirolli. Certain of their recordings overlap those of Bruno Walter and Kathleen Ferrier and the content here. Indeed the interpretations of these two pairs could be considered rivals. Baker and Barbirolli shared the same recording company, EMI, and their recordings together depended on the exigencies of the catalogue as seen by the company’s Artist and Repertoire gurus. It wasn’t that easy for Kathleen Ferrier and conductor Bruno Walter to get recording sessions together after memorable performances at the Edinburgh Festival in 1947. As James Murray, in an informative sleeve note explains, Walter was one of the Columbia label’s most prestigious artists whilst Kathleen Ferrier was contracted to Decca. Manoeuvring and pressure on the part of Ferrier persuaded Decca to relent, and during a Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra tour of Britain, Columbia recorded the pair in Kindertotenlieder. The return fixture didn’t happen until 1952 when Decca recorded the pair in Das Lied van der Erde in their favourite venue of the Grosser Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna. The Drei Rückert Liederen was also recorded at these sessions and issued as the fourth side of a two LP set.

Regis has already issued Das Lied (RRC 1146) prepared with care by Tony Watts who has lavished similar care on this CD. However, Columbia’s recording technique of 1949 was no match for Decca’s and particularly the latter’s Vienna team of 1952. Indeed at the start of the Kindertotenlieder (tr. 1), with Ferrier’s opening phrases not ideally steady and the voice too far forward, the orchestral sound is thin and the bassoon and horns tremulous. However, matters improve rapidly and the symbiosis of two great musicians working together in a common purpose can be enjoyed to the full. Ferrier’s tone is light, expressive and full of feeling (tr.4). The better recording and balance in the Drei Rückert Liederen allow the listener to be drawn into the expressive nuances of the singing (trs. 6-8). Ferrier’s diction and phrasing are outstanding here and are superbly set off and matched by Bruno Walter’s conducting.

After the emotion of the Mahler the impact of the Brahms pieces is less immediate. Ferrier’s voice is not as open-throated (tr. 9) as in the Rückert Liederen with the tessitura lower (tr. 10 at 2min 18). However, her characteristic elegance of phrase and emotional involvement are present to the full. Her voice is recorded well forward without overwhelming the sympathetic piano accompaniment in the 1950 Decca original. Similar excellent balance is achieved in the Op. 91 songs (trs. 13-14) where the mood is well reflected by all the participants.

This Regis collection has been prepared with care and draws on both Decca and Columbia originals. To the best of my knowledge the combination of these works is unique on CD. For that reason, as well as Kathleen Ferrier’s consummate skill in this oeuvre, it can be thoroughly recommended.

Robert J Farr

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