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A Kathleen Ferrier feature by Christopher Fifield

 

Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953)

 

The Complete EMI Recordings

CD 1 [60.56]

Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
What is life to me without thee (Orpheus and Euridice) [4.34]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Liebestreu (Constancy) Op.3 No.1 [2.14]
Feinsliebchen (Sweetheart) Deutsche Volkslieder Vol. II No.12 [2.35]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
My work is done … It is because (Dream of Gerontius) [3.17]
Gerald Moore (piano)
Date of recording 30 June 1944, Studio 3, Abbey Road, London 

Maurice GREENE (1696-1755)
I will lay me down in peace [3.45]
O praise the Lord [1.48]
Gerald Moore (piano)
Date of recording 30 September 1944, Studio 3, Abbey Road, London

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Spring is coming (Ottone) [3.52]
Come to me soothing sleep (Ottone) [4.17]
Gerald Moore (piano)
Date of recording 20 April 1945, Studio 3, Abbey Road, London

Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Sound the trumpet (Birthday Ode for Queen Mary) [2.01]
Let us wander, not unseen (The Indian Queen) arr. Moffat [1.46]
Shepherd, shepherd cease decoying (King Arthur) [1.20] 

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
I would that my love Op.63 No.1 [2.46]
Greeting Op.63 No.3 [2.31]
Isobel Baillie (soprano), Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), Gerald Moore (piano)
Date of recording 21 September 1945, Studio 3, Abbey Road, London

 
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Kindertotenlieder
Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n [4.51]
Nun seh’ ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen [4.39]
Wenn dein Mütterlein tritt zur Tür herein [4.30]
Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen! [2.55]
In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus [6.24]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter
Date of recording 4 October 1949, Kingsway Hall, London

 CD 2 [60.34]

Johannes Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Mass in B minor (BWV232)
Christe eleison * [3.36]
Qui sedes [3.36]
Et in unum Dominum* [4.15]
Agnus Dei [5.30]
Elizabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)* Kathleen Ferrier (contralto)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Recorded at rehearsal on 15 June 1950, Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, Austria

Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice
Act One; Act Two, Scene One
Greet Koeman (Euridice), Nel Duval (Amor), Kathleen Ferrier (Orfeo)
Netherlands Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Charles Bruck
Live recording on 10 July 1951 from the Municipal Theatre, Amsterdam, Holland

CD 3 [68.06]

Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice
Act Two, Scene Two; Act Three
Greet Koeman (Euridice), Nel Duval (Amor), Kathleen Ferrier (Orfeo)
Netherlands Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Charles Bruck
Live recording on 10 July 1951 from the Municipal Theatre, Amsterdam, Holland

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Kindertotenlieder (alternative takes previously unissued)
Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n [5.18]
In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus [6.36]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter
Date of recording 4 October 1949, Kingsway Hall, London

 EMI CLASSICS 50999 9 56284 2 4 [3CD s: 60.56 + 60.34 + 68.06]

alternatively CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

 

 

In this year of the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee we also celebrate the centenary of the birth on 22 April 1912 of Britain’s greatest lyric contralto, Kathleen Ferrier. Despite her tragically early death at 41 - which coincidentally threatened to overshadow the Queen’s coronation year of 1953 - Kathleen has never really left us. After brief introductory remarks, I start my talk Kathleen Ferrier: Her Life and Voice (now given over 150 times) by asking whether among the audience there are some who heard her live in recital, concert, oratorio or opera. Without exception there are always up to half a dozen or so, among them even choristers with whom she sang as soloist. I then play her recording of ‘What is life?’ to remind ourselves of the contralto voice. Why do we need such a reminder? Because today it is an unfashionable vocal Fach and very hard to find except as a section of a choir, or as a character in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Everywhere I speak throughout the land, as the sound of Kathleen Ferrier’s voice fills the hall, the faces of my audiences react immediately with closed eyes and faint smiles to the serenity and nobility of that unmistakeable sound. They immediately drift off into a reverie. It may be nostalgia for a bygone age, or evoked memories of parents recalled who loved a voice which frequently resounded about the house from wherever the wireless - how wonderfully old-fashioned that word reads - was located. Whether it was Housewives’ Choice, Family Favourites or the evergreen Desert Island Discs, whether it was a live broadcast of Messiah from the Royal Albert Hall on the Third Programme, a folksong in a recital on the Home Service, or a talk on Woman’s Hour on the Light Programme, what we heard then we can conjure up now. Thanks to EMI’s three-disc set of all her recordings for that label, we can also follow her recorded legacy from its very start for the Columbia label on 30 June 1944. It only lasted with EMI for just over a year thanks to her poor relationship with its senior producer Walter Legge, whose definition of an overture exceeded far beyond the musical term, especially when alone with Kathleen in the back of a taxi. Instead Kathleen tore up her contract and went to Decca at the suggestion of her teacher, the baritone Roy Henderson. In 1949 and in response to intense pressure from Kathleen, Decca temporarily released her back to EMI for Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder conducted by one of her mentors, Bruno Walter (CD 1). In return he conducted her recording of that composer’s Das Lied von der Erde in 1952, such was the stupidity of contractual ties and obligations in those days.

 

There’s not much EMI material compared to the Decca catalogue she subsequently built up after she joined them in 1946 but nevertheless what there is will be a must for Ferrier collectors. All but two of the tracks have been released on APR5544 by Bryan Crimp. Such information can be found in Paul Campion’s fine discography Ferrier – A career recorded, Thames Publishing 2005, a ‘must have’ to bring clarity to her complex recorded legacy. The two exceptions are reserved and slightly slower takes from Kindertotenlieder, back-ups which have been long forgotten. Then (CD 2) there are four chunks of Bach’s B minor Mass from 15 June 1950, which were recorded at the afternoon rehearsal for the concert (the complete live performance is on Verona 300006/7 or Guild GHCD 2260/2) so that technicians could test the microphones and recording machinery for another unconnected project. Two of the four excerpts are duets with Schwarzkopf (Legge’s wife). Coughs and thumps apart, this is a miracle of a recording which could easily have been jettisoned but mercifully was not. Kathleen is occasionally distant especially when the quieter range is under test, indeed what appears to be a fade-out suddenly returns plena voce. Rehearsal it may be but both singers and instrumentalists play faultlessly. Karajan’s interpretation is steeped in the 19th rather than the 20th century. His tempo for the Agnus Dei is desperately slow, at times threatening to stop altogether, but Kathleen copes admirably and is known to have made the conductor weep in the performance of this movement. Also taken from a live broadcast is a staged Orfeo from Holland on 10 July 1951 (CD 2) about three weeks after her reappearance in public following her mastectomy as part of the ultimately vain attempt to cure her final illness. The finest gem is the test pressing of two piano-accompanied extracts from the end of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, all we have of Kathleen’s renowned singing of the role of the Angel and which lay forgotten until 1978. All such non-orchestral items are accompanied by Gerald Moore, one of the finest accompanists Kathleen could have wished for and a great friend to her throughout the brief number of years which lay ahead. Kathleen’s diary records the mundane life she was leading in Carlisle during 1942 (more detail later in the review of ‘An ordinary diva’) and it is striking, indeed amazing, that these, her first recordings, were made in 1944, barely 18 months later. In that short time the voice became confident, full in sound and vivid in colour, the famed Ferrier echo producing a pianissimo of magical intensity as well as joyous praise in jollier music by Handel, Greene and (in duet with soprano Isobel Baillie) Purcell and Mendelssohn (CD 1). She had become a consummate professional.

 

Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953)

The Complete Decca Recordings - Centenary Edition

 

CD 1 [54.01]

Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice (abridged)
Ann Ayars, Zoë Vlachopoulos (sopranos), Kathleen Ferrier (contralto)
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Southern Philharmonic Orchestra/Fritz Stiedry
Date of recording 22, 23, 29 June 1947, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London

CD 2 [62.08]

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
St Matthew Passion BWV244 (arias and choruses)
No.1 Come, ye daughters (chorus) [10.05]
No.9 My Master and my Lord (alto recitative)
No.10 Grief for sin (alto aria) [4.49]
No.33 Behold, my Saviour (soprano and alto duet and chorus) [5.02]
No.36 Ah! Now is my Saviour gone (alto aria and chorus)[5.12]
No.47 Have mercy, Lord, on me (alto aria)
No.48 Lamb of God, I fall before Thee (chorale) [8.38]
No.60 O gracious God! (alto recitative)
No.61 If my tears be unavailing (alto aria) [9.31]
No.63 O sacred head surrounded (chorale) [1.16]
No.69 Ah, Golgotha! (alto recitative)
No.70 See ye! (alto aria and chorus) [5.44]
No.72 Be near me, Lord (chorale) [1.54]
No.77 And now the Lord to rest is laid (recitative for soloists and chorus)
No.78 In tears of grief (chorus) [9.32]
Elsie Suddaby (soprano), Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), Eric Greene (tenor),
William Parsons (bass)
The Bach Choir
The Jacques Orchestra/Reginald Jacques
Date of recording Kingsway Hall, London 1947-1948

 CD 3 [67.50]

Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
What is life to me without thee (Orpheus and Euridice) [4.27]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Art thou troubled? (Rodelinda) [4.39]
London Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Date of recording 27 February 1946, Kingsway Hall, London
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
St Matthew Passion BWV244
Have mercy, Lord, on me [8.09]
David McCallum (violin)
National Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Date of recording 6 February 1946, Kingsway Hall, London
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Frondi tenere … Ombra mai fu (Serse) [4.38]
London Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Date of recording 7 October 1948, Kingsway Hall, London
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Woe unto them (Elijah) [4.38]
O rest in the Lord (Elijah) [3.09]
The Boyd Neel Orchestra/Boyd Neel
Date of recording 2 September1946, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Giovanni PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Stabat Mater
Stabat Mater dolorosa [4.29]
Cujus animam gementem [2.17]
O quam tristis [2.07]
Quae moerabat [2.54]
Quis est homo [2.41]
Vidit suum dulcem Natum [3.39]
Eja Mater, fons amoris [2.15]
Fac ut ardeat [2.10]
Sancta Mater [5.44]
Fac ut portem [2.55]
Inflammatus [2.51]
Quando corpus [4.15]
Joan Taylor (soprano), Kathleen Ferrier (contralto)
Nottingham Oriana Choir
The Boyd Neel String Orchestra/Roy Henderson
Date of recording 8 and 28 May 1946, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London

 CD 4 [59.37]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Frauenliebe und Leben Op.42 [21.59]
Volksliedchen Op.51 No.2 [1.17]
Widmung Op.25 No.1 [2.25]
John Newmark (piano)
Date of recording 12 and 14 July 1950, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sapphische Ode Op.94 No.4 [2.46]
Botschaft Op.47 No.1 [2.07]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Date of recording 19 December 1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118 [3.09]
Die junge Nonne D828 [4.43]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Date of recording 14 March 1947, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
An die Musik D.547 [3.05]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Date of recording 14 February 1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Der Musensohn D.764 [2.15]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Date of recording 19 December 1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Ganymed D.544 [4.17]
Du liebst mich nicht D.756 [2.50] (the recording fades with the last 12 bars missing)
Lachen und Weinen D777 [1.57]
Benjamin Britten (piano)
Private recording from a BBC broadcast on 4 February 1952
Silent night, holy night [3.24]
O come, all ye faithful [3.18]
The Boyd Neel Orchestra/Boyd Neel
Date of recording 6 August 1948, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London

 CD 5 [72.01]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Four Serious Songs Op.121 orch. Sargent [18.27]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
BBC broadcast on 12 January 1949 
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème de l’amour et de la mer Op.19 [27.27]
Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli
BBC broadcast on 9 March 1951
Howard FERGUSON (1908-1999)
Discovery Op.13 [7.36]
William WORDSWORTH (1908-1988)
Three songs Op.5 [6.17]
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Three psalms Op.61 [10.26]
Ernest Lush (piano)
BBC broadcast on 12 January 1953

 CD 6 [73.41]
Songs and arias
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
The fairy lough Op.77 No.2 [3.39]
A soft day Op.140 No.3 [2.53]
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Love is a bable Op.152 No.3 [1.39]
Ralph Vaughan WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Silent noon [4.53]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Go not, happy day [1.33]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Sleep [2.46]
Pretty ring-time [1.16]
O Waly, Waly Trad. arr. Britten [4.13]
Come you not from Newcastle? Trad. arr. Britten [1.32]
Kitty, my love Trad. arr. Hughes[1.21]
Frederick Stone (piano)
BBC broadcast on 5 June 1952
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Mad Bess of Bedlam arr. Britten [7.04]
Hark the echoing air (The Fairy Queen) [3.12]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Like as the lovelorn turtle (Atalanta) [7.12]
How changed the vision (Admeto) [3.58]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Vier Mörike LiederVerborgenheit [3.46]
Der Gärtner [1.47]
Auf ein altes Bild [3.19]
Auf einer Wanderung [3.41]
Paul Ludvig Irgens JENSEN (1894-1969)
Altar [4.10]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Broadcast from Norway on 16 October 1949
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Vergiss mein nicht BWV505 No.71 [2.20]
Ach, dass nicht die letzte Stunde BWV439 No.1 [1.58]
Millicent Silver (harpsichord)
Private recording from a BBC broadcast on 26 December 1949
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Bist du bei mir BWV 508 [3.31]
John Newmark (piano)
Broadcast from Town Hall, New York 8 January 1950

 CD 7 [48.05]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Qui sedes (Mass in B minor) BWV232 [5.48]
Grief for sin (St Matthew Passion) BWV244 [6.04]
All is fulfilled (St John Passion) BWV245 [5.20]
Agnus Dei (Mass in B minor) BWV232 [5.44]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Return, O God of hosts! (Samson) [4.28]
O Thou that tellest (Messiah) [5.39]
Father of Heaven (Judas Maccabeus) [7.53]
He was despised (Messiah) [6.43]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Date of recording 7 and 8 October 1952, Kingsway Hall, London

 CD 8 [53.28]
Traditional Folksongs
Ma bonny lad arr. Whittaker [1.51]
The keel row arr. Whittaker [1.44]
Blow the wind southerly arr. Whittaker [2.22]
Date of recording 10 February1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
I have a bonnet trimmed with blue arr. Hughes [1.12]
My boy Willie arr. Sharp [1.44]
Date of recording 10 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
I know where I’m goin’ arr. Hughes [2.22]
Date of recording 11 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
The fidgety bairn arr. Roberton [2.48]
Date of recording 17 July1950 Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
I will walk with my love arr. Hughes [1.59]
Date of recording 10 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Ca’ the yowes arr. Jacobson [3.26]
Date of recording 17 July 1950, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
O Waly, Waly arr. Britten [3.34]
Date of recording 10 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Willow, willow arr. Warlock [3.31]
Date of recording 11 February 1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
The stuttering lovers arr. Hughes [1.43]
Date of recording 10 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London

Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Now sleeps the crimson petal Op.3 No.2 [2.30]
Date of recording 10 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Fair house of joy Op.12 No.7 [2.38]
To daisies Op.8 No.3 [2.13]
Over the mountains arr. Quilter [2.15]
Date of recording 11 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Have you seen but a white lily grow? arr. Grew [2.25]
Date of recording 10 February 1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Ye banks and braes arr. Quilter [3.10]
Drink to me only arr. Quilter [3.03]
Date of recording 11 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Down by the sally gardens arr. Hughes [3.07]
The lover’s curse arr. Hughes [3.05]
Date of recording 11 February1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Phyllis Spurr (piano), John Newmark (piano)

 

CD 9 [63.07]

What the Edinburgh Festival has meant to me [2.52]
BBC Scottish Home Service broadcast 11 September 1949
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die junge Nonne D828 [4.32]
Romance D797 No.3b [3.54]
Du liebst mich nicht D756 [3.43]
Der Tod und das Mädchen D531 [2.39]
Suleika 1 D720 [4.49]
Du bist die Ruh D776 [4.44]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Immer leise wird mein Schlummer Op.105 No.2 [4.04]
Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht Op.96 No.1 [3.27]
Botschaft Op.47 No.1 [2.14]
Von ewiger Liebe Op.43 No.1 [5.17]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Frauenliebe und Leben Op.42 [20.43]
Bruno Walter (piano)
BBC broadcast on 7 September 1949 from an Edinburgh Festival recital, Usher Hall.

 

CD 10 [67.20]

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Rhapsody for alto, male chorus and orchestra Op.53
London Philharmonic Men’s Choir/Orchestra/Clemens Krauss
Date of recording 18 and 19 December 1947, Kingsway Hall, London
Gestillte Sehnsucht Op.91 No.1 [5.11]
Geistliches Wiegenlied Op.91 No.2 [5.09]
Phyllis Spurr (piano) Max Gilbert (viola]
Date of recording 15 February1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Vier ernste Gesänge Op.121 [18.26]
John Newmark (piano)
Date of recording 17 July1950, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Kindertotenlieder [22.30]
Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n [4.56]
Nun seh’ ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen [3.53]
Wenn dein Mütterlein tritt zur Tür herein [4.04]
Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen! [3.03]
In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus [6.34]
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
Live broadcast recording 12 July 1951, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland

 

CD 11 [69.28]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Liebeslieder Walzer Op.52 Nos.1-18 [23.29]
Zum Schluss (Neue Liebeslieder Walzer) Op.65 No.15 [2.25]
Irmgard Seefried (soprano), Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), Julius Patzak (tenor),
Horst Günter (bass baritone), Clifford Curzon, Hans Gál (piano duet)
BBC broadcast on 2 September 1952 from an Edinburgh Festival recital, Usher Hall
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Spring Symphony Op.44 [43.06]
Jo Vincent (soprano), Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), Peter Pears (tenor)
Boys’ Choir of St Willibrorduskerk, Rotterdam/Netherlands Radio Choir
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum
Private recording of the first performance on 14 July 1949, Amsterdam

 CD 12 [71.38]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.2 Resurrection [71.38]
Jo Vincent (soprano), Kathleen Ferrier (contralto)
Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir/Concertgebouw Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
Live recording July 1951, Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

 CD 13 [76.02]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Das Lied von der Erde [61.16]
Three Rückert Lieder [14.46]
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), Julius Patzak (tenor)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter
Date of recording 15, 16, 20 May1952, Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, Austria

 CD 14 [42.11]
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Praise our God Cantata BWV11 (Ascension Oratorio)
Date of recording 6 October and 1 November 1949, Kingsway Hall, London
Hold in affection Jesus Christ Cantata BWV67
Date of recording 3 November 1949, Kingsway Hall, London
Ena Mitchell (soprano), Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), William Herbert (tenor),
William Parsons (bass)
The Cantata Singers/The Jacques Orchestra/Reginald Jacques

 Bonus DVD [58.00]
Kathleen Ferrier – An Ordinary Diva
1. Kathleen Ferrier – an ordinary diva [7.35]
2. Mrs Wilson [4.29]
3. Carlisle to Covent Garden in five years [13.44]
4. Yours till hell freezes over [4.02]
5. Whoopee! [11.38]
6. Aren’t I lucky [3.25]
7. Hell! Hell! Hell! [13.45]
Picture gallery
Decca discography
Original Decca record covers
Original Decca recording cards
Director: Suzanne Phillips
Menu screens: English
Video aspect ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Region Code: NTSC 123456
Disc format DVD 5

DECCA 478 3589 [14 CD s: 54.01 + 62.08 + 67.50 + 59.37 + 72.01 + 73.41 + 48.05 + 53.28 + 63.07 + 67.20 + 69.28 + 71.38 + 76.02 + 42.11; DVD: 58.00]

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Decca’s collection picks up Kathleen Ferrier’s recording career where the EMI set stops in the autumn of 1945, apart from her return to them for her collaboration with Bruno Walter in Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder in London four years later in October 1949. She had clearly felt uncomfortable recording for EMI, in particular with Walter Legge in charge but this is no longer the case when she is working with her artistic colleagues in Decca’s stable whether they be producers, fellow singers, conductors or accompanists. At EMI she worked with Isobel Baillie, with whom she had a cordial but not deep friendship. A more serious loss was the end of her recording work with Gerald Moore, although her friendship with him and his wife remained constant and the pair went on to give many recitals throughout Britain and Europe. At Decca she was now working with friends such as Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, Phyllis Spurr, Roy Henderson, Reginald Jacques and John Newmark, a group of artists described by the record company as ‘various accompanists, orchestras and conductors’ in this collection of 14-CD s. Her first recording for them was of Bach’s aria ‘Have mercy, Lord, on me’ from St Matthew Passion in February 1946 conducted by Sargent (CD 3), who played a prominent role in her career by arranging for the agent John Tillett to audition her at the Wigmore Hall (9 July 1942) and take her on the books of Ibbs and Tillett. Until the end of 1942 she kept the domestic diary of a housewife (‘Washed’. ‘Shopped’. ‘Pipes froze’. ‘Hair’. ‘Knitting bee’. ‘Made a housecoat from two rugs’). On 28 December that same year and having moved down to London on Christmas Eve, she could write ‘National Gallery. Went off very well. Crowds there’. Her career as a fully professional singer was further underway. Her last recording for Decca was made in October 1952 (CD 7), again of music by Bach but also Handel and with another British knight, Sir Adrian Boult. Her final recording was a BBC broadcast in January 1953 in which she sang contemporary British music (CD 5). The wealth of material here is a true reflection of her packed ten-year career. Her’s is a remarkable story worth the telling. Because the family income dropped alarmingly when her schoolteacher father retired, Kathleen left school at fourteen and spent nine years working for the Post Office, She attended neither University nor Music College, learnt no foreign languages nor studied harmony and counterpoint. Her failed marriage and the Second World War gave her the freedom to exchange her teaching/accompanying/coaching activities as a pianist for that of singing. She started her professional life aged thirty, a good five years behind the average for a singer and was therefore forced into playing catch-up in terms of both experience and filling her portfolio with repertoire. The best way to follow her career path is by listening to Decca’s 14 CD s, not forgetting that there are other works or performances to be had on other labels, including Music and Arts, Naxos, Guild, Somm, Gem, Gala, Appian and BBC Legends, to complete the picture. Back in 2003, to mark the 50th anniversary of her death, Decca put together a 10-CD set (Decca 475 6060). Now we have a further four and they are all familiar fare in terms of being re-issues or re-masterings of earlier single discs but where EMI offer us two unused takes from a recording we already have, Decca give us (CD 14) two Bach Cantatas complete on CD for the first time (I still have my vinyl 10-inch LP of one of them, Cantata No.11). The big gaps in her recorded legacy remain. The most missed are Elgar’s music, in particular Dream of Gerontius, a complete Messiah and Britten’s Canticle Abraham and Isaac.

 

For those who do not wish to spend nearly £50 on the 14 CD box, Decca has issued a 2-CD set called ‘Kathleen Ferrier Centenary Edition – A Tribute’ and please note that the titles are inevitably very similar to those issued nine years ago for the anniversary of her death (475 078-2), the difference being that these more recent issues include the words ‘Centenary Edition’ in the title. When it comes to comparing the content of the 2003 and 2012 2-CD sets, it’s a case of having ‘all the right tracks but not necessarily in the right order’. Here is what you get in a good selection of typical Ferrier fare in the 2012 compilation of 38 arias and songs taken from the 14-CD box.

 

 Kathleen Ferrier - Centenary Edition – A Tribute

 CD 1
Traditional Folksongs
Blow the wind southerly arr. Whittaker [2.22]
Date of recording 10 February1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Down by the sally gardens arr. Hughes [3.07]
Date of recording 11 February1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London.
The keel row arr. Whittaker [1.44]
Date of recording 10 February1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Ye banks and braes arr. Quilter [3.10]
Date of recording 11 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St Matthew Passion BWV244
Have mercy, Lord, on me [8.09]
David McCallum (violin)
National Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Date of recording 6 February 1946, Kingsway Hall, London
St Matthew Passion BWV244
Grief for sin BWV244 [6.04]
St John Passion BWV245 [5.20]
All is fulfilled
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Date of recording 7 and 8 October 1952, Kingsway Hall, London
Bist du bei mir BWV 508 [3.31]
John Newmark (piano)
Broadcast from Town Hall, New York 8 January 1950
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Geistliches Wiegenlied Op.91 No.2 [5.09]
Phyllis Spurr (piano) Max Gilbert (viola]
Date of recording 15 February1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Kindertotenlieder [22.30]
Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n [4.56]
Nun seh’ ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen [3.53]
Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen! [3.03]
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
Live broadcast recording 12 July 1951, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Return, O God of hosts! (Samson) [4.28]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Date of recording 7 and 8 October 1952, Kingsway Hall, London
Like as the lovelorn turtle (Atalanta) [7.12]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Broadcast from Norway on 16 October 1949
O Thou that tellest (Messiah) [5.39]
He was despised (Messiah) [6.43]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Date of recording 7 and 8 October 1952, Kingsway Hall, London
Ombra mai fu (Serse) [4.38]
London Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Date of recording 7 October 1948, Kingsway Hall, London

 CD 2
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
What is life to me without thee (Orpheus and Euridice) [4.27]
London Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Date of recording 27 February 1946, Kingsway Hall, London
Traditional Folksongs
Drink to me only arr. Quilter [3.03]
Date of recording 11 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Ma bonny lad arr. Whittaker [1.51]
Date of recording 10 February1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Come you not from Newcastle? Trad. arr. Britten [1.32]
Kitty, my love Trad. arr. Hughes[1.21]
Frederick Stone (piano)
BBC broadcast on 5 June 1952
I know where I’m goin’ arr. Hughes [2.22]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Date of recording 11 December1951, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
O rest in the Lord (Elijah) [3.09]
The Boyd Neel Orchestra/Boyd Neel
Date of recording 2 September1946, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Hark the echoing air (The Fairy Queen) [3.12]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Broadcast from Norway on 16 October 1949
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
An die Musik D.547 [3.05]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Date of recording 14 February 1949, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118 [3.09]
Phyllis Spurr (piano)
Date of recording 14 March 1947, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, London
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Qui sedes (Mass in B minor) BWV232 [5.48]
Agnus Dei (Mass in B minor) BWV232 [5.44]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Date of recording 7 and 8 October 1952, Kingsway Hall, London
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Two Rückert Lieder
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen [5.35]
Um Mitternacht [6.24]
Das Lied von der Erde
Der Abschied [28.22]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter
Date of recording 15, 16, 20 May1952, Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, Austria

 DECCA 480 6151 [2 CDs]

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There is only so much one can hear and see of Kathleen Ferrier’s all too brief career. The bonus DVD ‘An ordinary Diva’ contained in the 14-CD box was first issued in 2004 (DECCA 074 3067 DVD + CD ) and aired on all four BBC channels within a year or two. A declaration of interest is made by this reviewer who participated in the film as the editor of Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier (Boydell Press 2003/enlarged paperback revision 2011). Dame Janet Baker, Ian Jack, Sir George Christie, Veronica Dunne and the late Alan Blyth, John Steane, Adele Leigh and Lady Barbirolli were among those interviewed. There is a film within a film, which includes valuable, fascinating footage from the BBC’s 1968 Omnibus programme with characters long departed life’s stage, Britten, Barbirolli, her singing teachers John Hutchinson and Roy Henderson, sister Winifred, friends from her native Northern roots and singing colleagues such as Isobel Baillie. Going forward into the material made especially for the DVD, the narrator is Robert Lindsay, Ferrier's words are spoken by Vivien Parry and her letters read by Patricia Routledge. This is the only miscalculation because her voice is too old for a woman in her late 30s. It also brings home the difficulty of pin-pointing Kathleen’s accent. The ‘r’ in the word ‘work’ is a give-away – listen to the Edinburgh Festival talk for the BBC which begins CD 9. Referring to Dr Bruno Walter she says ‘My greatest good fortune has been working with Dr Bruno Walter. To work and learn with him …’. Hers was soft Blackburn, a distinctive accent within a Lancastrian one belonging to a middle-class girl who later had elocution lessons. By the time she came to London she had ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP). The result was a deep posh voice just like Margaret Thatcher’s heard in the 1970s, when it was still necessary to conceal origins (in this case a Grantham family of grocers) in order to get on. Word stress is carefully judged, the word ‘very’ often emphasised in her favoured expression ‘my cup is very full’ – which it was – and the ‘r’ a clipped single roll. Kathleen’s accent was far subtler than any Lancastrian version of ‘ee-by-gum’ from over the nearby Yorkshire border. Even when out of the public eye and ear and when making fun of the contralto voice at a post-performance party in New York when she recites monologues, spoofs the stereotypical oratorio contralto ‘hoot’ and introduces items in that infectiously giggling voice – it’s not pure Blackburn we hear. Like a chameleon, she takes on the accent of her surroundings (one hears traces of American in this case and even Scottish, as well as ‘posh’). Probably the nearest we will ever get to the genuine Kathleen speaking voice is by listening to her sister Winifred, leave it at that and concentrate on her singing voice. This issue, however, continues to irk in the new DVD Decca are distributing.

 

 

Kathleen Ferrier - A film by Diane Perelsztejn

Available in two versions

DVD + CD bonus (Scanavo DVD box) 00440 0743471 0 AmazonUK AmazonUS

DVD + CD bonus (Brilliant CD box) 00440 0743479 6 AmazonUK AmazonUS

Narrator (English) Charlotte Rampling
Narrator (French) Marthe Keller
Picture format: 16:9
Colour mode: Colour
Region Code: 0 worldwide
DVD Format: NTSC

DVD [67.51]
Chapters:
1. A Lancashire lass [6.41]
2. War breaks out [4.17]
3. ‘I took my things to London and started my career there’ [3.31]
4. An oratorio singer? [4.30]
5. ‘My first opera’ – Glyndebourne 1946 [3.22]
6. Bruno Walter [5.50]
7. ‘Making musical history’ [6.07]
8. North America [6.01]
9. Kathleen off the stage [5.37]
10. Rick Davies [6.47]
11. Das Lied von der Erde [7.01]
12. Orpheus and Euridice, Covent Garden [5.11]
13. Credits

 Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953)

CD [51.23]
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Three arias [8.16]
Vergiss mein nicht BWV505 No.71 [2.39]
Ach, dass nicht die letzte Stunde BWV439 No.1 [2.01]
Bist du bei mir BWV 508 [3.36]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897
Four Serious Songs Op.121 [18.57]
John Newmark (piano)
Broadcast on WABF from Town Hall, New York 8 January 1950
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice (excerpts) [24.17]
Ann Ayars (Euridice), Louisa Kinlock (Amor), Kathleen Ferrier (Orfeo)
The Westminster Choir/Little Orchestra Society/Thomas Scherman
Private recording made at Town Hall, New York, 17 March 1950
DECCA 074 3471 DVD + CD

 

With two important anniversaries so relatively near (2003 and 2012) and another to come next year (2013, the 60th of her death) one might be forgiven for concerns about overkill. How much more can one expect to find? Between the two editions of Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier I managed, in those intervening nine years, to find another 90 letters and added a chapter on her relationship with the BBC. Since publication of the revised edition in October 2011 I have discovered just two more letters. One can only hope for more of them and for more recordings. Nevertheless the Belgian, Melbourne-residing Diane Perelsztejn has made a further film on the life of Kathleen Ferrier, coupled here with a CD of three works which have lain out of public hearing in New York for 62 years.

First to the DVD and let’s get some irritating pronunciations and dubious conclusions out of the way. It may have been a coup to secure the services of Charlotte Rampling to narrate this English version (Marthe Keller does the French one) but she is an accomplished actress who for many years has made France her domicile and it shows. Her delivery is very soothing but eventually monochrome, while her English is too frequently laced with an attractive but utterly inappropriate French accent. Even more to the point, it is hard to understand why she was not corrected in some basic pronunciations of names and the technical terms of music, or, at the very least, asked to be consistent. Regrettably the worst example is the very surname of the subject of this film. Ferrier does not rhyme with Perrier as in the French carbonated water, while Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde requires careful and accurate pronunciation (Das Lied von die Erd simply won’t do). Similarly the surname of the composer Hugo Wolf is not sounded as the animal but always with the initial letter pronounced as a V not a W. The ‘o’ in the third syllable of Barbirolli should be as in ‘wrong’ and not as in ‘roly poly’. In ‘Kindertotenlieder’ the stress comes on the third syllable (‘tot’) rather than on the fifth (‘Lieder’). With ‘Bruno Walter’ why do we suddenly hear the strange aberration ‘Waltaire’ as in Voltaire where elsewhere in the film it has been largely correct? If a letter is put up on the screen and says ‘and it rolled’ why change it to ‘but it fell’ or from ‘legs burnt’ to ‘legs burned’ for all to see? Why does ‘busto’ suddenly go into a Yorkshire accent in caricature? There is no shortage of expertise among Kathleen Ferrier fans and someone from among them should have been on board to monitor these inconsistencies and errors.

 There are also some statements with which one could take issue. One is that ‘she often sang arias for male parts’, which is wide open to misinterpretation. Another is that ‘performances of Mahler were not so widespread in the UK in 1947’, the year Kathleen first sang Das Lied von der Erde at the Edinburgh Festival. In fact 1947 was the very year that the BBC first broadcast a cycle of all Mahler’s numbered symphonies including the first UK broadcast performance on 29 November that year of the third under Sir Adrian Boult in which Kathleen took the solo contralto part. Barbirolli himself first conducted Mahler when he did Das Lied von der Erde in the Albert Hall, Manchester in April 1946 with Parry Jones and Catherine Lawson as soloists. Performances of Mahler’s music were certainly rare but it is important to put the Walter/Ferrier collaboration, hugely significant as it is, into some sort of context. Elizabeth Dunlop makes some interesting observations about Kathleen’s friendship with the Edinburgh-based couple Alec and Rosalind Maitland but there is a danger here of blurring the borders between fact and fiction. How do we know that Rosalind coached Kathleen in German after two visits she made to their home at No.6 Heriot Row in December 1942 and again in January 1943? (see footnote) The extant letters don’t tell us. A telling caveat ‘family legend, whether it’s true or not’ precedes the story that Kathleen taught herself Brahms’ Four Serious Songs from a copy originally given by the composer to Rosalind’s mother. None of this, nor the graphic description by Ms Dunlop of Kathleen’s gauche stage manner at the start of her evening recital (12 January 1943) at the Maitlands’ home, is mentioned in either Winifred’s biography or the later (1988) one by Maurice Leonard, though both confirm that she stayed there. More importantly Kathleen makes no mention of any of this in her diary beyond the fact that she was in Edinburgh and stayed with the Maitlands. Surely she would have described even touching Brahms’ own score let alone studying it? It would be good to read the evidence and equally so to know the sources.

Nowhere does the Director Diane Perelsztejn explain the questionable decision to accompany Kathleen’s re-mastered voice in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with a 13-piece ensemble (string quintet, wind quintet, piano and percussion) replacing a full orchestra such as the Vienna Philharmonic. It may appear clever to place a picture of the singing Kathleen to one side of the screen to give the impression of a ‘live’ collaboration but in terms of sound, the result is predictably thin textured and visually very off-putting. It may show the process by which this was achieved but with the musicians casually dressed and desultorily conducted, the quasi-karaoke performance which ensues naturally focuses entirely on staying with Kathleen’s voice. This approach only serves to emphasise how impossible it is to achieve any sense of spontaneous interpretation. It as not as if the film eschews any playing of recordings of Kathleen singing with orchestra, far from it – so why just this work?

It seems almost perverse that we must be glad that Kathleen’s 12-year marriage to Bert Wilson failed, else she would have remained in the north-west with 2.4 children as the wife of a bank manager playing and teaching the piano, possibly also as a singer but as an amateur one and probably with no more status than as a big fish in a small pond. This personal aspect becomes the film’s driven obsession with Kathleen’s relationship with antiques dealer Rick Davies and makes the presumption that when he appears in her life (actually she appeared in his) in 1943 ‘she had finally found a man with whom she could enjoy the kind of relationship of which she had dreamed’ but this is not borne out by events let alone evidence. Seven years later (in June 1950) he bores her after two days alone together in Switzerland while she acknowledges that her career has no room for domesticity. ‘Fickle that’s me’ she concludes in her usual self-deprecating way. Rick wanted marriage but she didn’t. He found a bride and it wasn’t Kathleen, so in her distress it is alleged that she burnt their letters.

Clips of Benjamin Britten, Bernie Hammond, Roy Henderson and Winifred Ferrier will be familiar to those who own ‘An ordinary diva’ for Perelsztejn dips into the John Drummond film put out by the BBC in 1968. This dvd is a must for Ferrier aficionados despite its flaws and irritations which get no easier to endure at repeated viewings. Nevertheless there are many interesting hitherto unpublished photographs, in particular of Kathleen and Rick together in happier times, clever use of wartime newsreel and subtle added sound effects to enhance the atmosphere of the what we are watching. There is much to commend this dvd and Ferrier-watchers will want it but I can imagine the BBC turning its nose up at transmitting it because of so many basic errors and they have ‘An ordinary diva’, which has just been on BBC4 twice for the centenary on 22 April 2012 and it gets another two airings on 18 and 19 May.

In all the welter of Ferrier material re-released at this time, the CD which accompanies this dvd is probably of the greatest interest as it consists of hitherto unreleased live recordings, albeit of music already in Kathleen’s discography. They were recorded at the Town Hall in New York in January and March 1950 during the last of her three annual tours to North America. There are three arias by Bach, or at least attributed to him as well as Brahms’ Four Serious Songs. All were recorded at a concert given by the New Friends of Music. It was a miscellaneous programme of Mozart, Bach, Brahms and Schoenberg with other performers including the Berkshire [String] Quartet, an extra violist and two French horn players. Kathleen’s contributions were accompanied by John Newmark, a much-favoured musical colleague as well as fast becoming a close and valued friend. For some reason Kathleen had become very nervous in the days leading up to the first Town Hall concert as she told her agent Emmie Tillett: 

I’ve got the New Friends of Music off my chest, which was worrying me frightfully because of the fuss I had had over the programme. I thought I dithered like an un-set jelly but the critics were good.

 

The result as heard here does not reflect her diary comment, ‘Very nervous but staggered through’. Her Bach arias are sung with wonderful sensitivity despite some distractingly sharp low notes on the piano. The Serious Songs by Brahms were well and truly part of her repertoire, featuring five times at the London Promenade Concerts from 1949 to 1952 when she sang them under Sargent in his fine orchestration of these originally piano-accompanied works. The performance here illustrates how eminently suited they were to the nobility of her sound and the rich depths into which the voice could dip. In 1950 Ferrier’s voice was at its greatest with warmly glowing tone, wondrous contrasts in dynamic range, vivid word-painting and impeccable diction. Her operatic approach to singing Lieder, aria, song and oratorio was achieved without recourse to sets, lighting, props, costume or make-up. The voice itself was more than capable of communicating without such extra-musical devices. As she herself wrote, ‘Opera is a lot of play-acting. I live and love and die in a song’.

Nevertheless Gluck’s Orfeo was a particular favourite and included ‘Che faro’ (‘What is life to me without thee’?) which soon became one of two works with which she became associated, the other being ‘Blow the wind southerly’. The half dozen extracts here from the abridged concert performance all involve Kathleen. It was conducted by Thomas Scherman, who founded the Little Orchestra Society in New York in 1947 and conducted it until his death in 1979. The recording comes from his private collection housed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound in the New York Public Library. Her Euridice was Ann Ayars some three years after they first sang the opera together at Glyndebourne. Kathleen always sounds comfortable in Orfeo and she herself said the role ‘lies in the fat of my voice’. While the recording quality and some of the playing may not be satisfactory by today’s standards, this is an invaluable record of two important appearances in America where, by this 1950 visit following those in 1948 and 1949, she was well and truly established. Her fatal illness put paid to any return there despite fairly advanced plans for the autumn of 1951. Her interpretations of ‘Che faro’ do vary enormously from the outset. The first was with piano in 1944 accompanied by Gerald Moore, the voice strong and confident, the interpretation still finding its way. The first with orchestra was Sargent’s stately version devoid of appoggiaturas in 1946, the dramatically driven one conducted by Fritz Stiedry followed in the live performance staged at Glyndebourne in 1947, then there is this one which gets alarmingly slower and slower before picking up again at the final verse. Kathleen clearly never lost her love for this aria and continually tinkered with its detail and her interpretation as well as responding spontaneously to her audiences or the nature of the performance, whether in concert or on stage. Here in New York it clearly brought the house down and quite rightly so for it is by far the finest she has left us. It is ironic that for a woman who had to battle to stay alive for the last two and half years of her short life, this aria with its repeated phrase ‘What is life if thou art dead’ was to be almost the last sounds she ever sang when she did so on the evening of 6 February 1953 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with her body literally disintegrating before the public’s eyes.

 

Christopher Fifield

Footnote

Elizabeth Dunlop has informed us that with reference to Dr Fifield's critique on MusicWeb of Kathleen Ferrier: a film by Diane Perelsztejn, please be informed that my principal source of information was Sir Alexander Maitland's cousin: Catherine, Lady Henderson, who was a witness to events at Heriot Row. Documents are available for consultation by appointment.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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