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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Kathleen Ferrier: Complete EMI recordings
Full content details at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 9562842  [3 CDs:  60.56 + 60.34 + 68.06]

Experience Classicsonline

This three-disc set presents the complete EMI recordings of that wonderful contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, including a couple of previously unissued tracks. The set commences with some test pieces set by Walter Legge to ascertain the suitability of her voice for recording in 1944; the opening What is life to me without thee is just slightly expressionless, and Ferrier seems more at home in the following Brahms Liebestreu and Feinsliebchen - although I find listening to these songs in English just a little disconcerting. In these songs, and the ensuing works by Elgar, Greene, Handel, Purcell and Mendelssohn, she is accompanied by the superb Gerald Moore. The pieces here that stand out are Ferrier’s beautiful and deeply moving rendition of My work is done from Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, and the three Purcell songs: Sound the trumpet, Let us wander, not unseen and Shepherd, shepherd cease decoying, in which she is joined by Isobel Baillie - glorious! The Handel Spring is coming is regrettably marred by a background hiss that was absent in the previous six tracks, although this technical disadvantage is balanced out by the fact that Ferrier’s voice is more relaxed here (in 1945) than it is in the previous works which were all recorded in 1944. The first disc concludes with Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, with Bruno Walter conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker, made in 1949. Ferrier had left EMI at the end of her year’s contract and moved over to Decca instead, and the development of the voice during that period is very evident, leading to a warm, radiant and expressive performance of this powerful work. 

The second disc opens with excerpts from Bach’s Mass in B minor - this recording is a remarkably lucky accident, as it was caught unintentionally when the EMI engineers, who had set up their equipment for another project and wanted to make sure that it was working properly, turned everything on during the rehearsal to make the necessary tests. The fact that it is a rehearsal does, however, mean that there is much background noise, but Ferrier is partnered by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Karajan conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker, so it is another historically important, and special, recording. Captured in 1950, it displays clearly the development of the lower register of Ferrier’s voice in comparison to the first three tracks of the first disc - and in the Agnus Dei in particular. The rest of this disc and the majority of the third disc are taken by up a radio broadcast of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice from Amsterdam, with Charles Bruck conducting the Chorus and Orchestra of the Netherlands Opera. Ferrier, as one might expect, sings with passion, intelligence and understanding, but she is let down by her fellow musicians: the orchestral sound is rather clogged - the string playing in particular rather heavy. The other soloists are not up to Ferrier’s high standard. The rhythmic pulse occasionally leaves something to be desired especially in the Ballet of the Shepherds and the Nymphs. The sopranos in the chorus wail, shriek, warble and swoop horrendously. Intonation is pretty dodgy in the tenors and there are some extremely interesting ensemble problems later on. The result is insecure and lugubrious in the extreme - although the ensemble problems resulted in a little hilarity from this particular listener. Poor Ferrier battles on magnificently!
Things conclude with, as a bonus, two “reserve” takes from the Kindertotenlieder recording, never issued before. The set is attractively presented, and has good notes on Ferrier’s life and recording career, although it doesn’t contains any words of songs, nor the libretto for Orfeo ed Euridice, which is a bit of a drawback. It most certainly leaves one regretting her early death and realising the loss for the musical life of this country that it entailed.
Em Marshall-Luck 

see also review by Ralph Moore and article by Christopher Fifield

Full content details 

CD 1
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)
rec. 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)
rec. 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)
rec. 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)
rec. 21 September 1945, Studio 3, Abbey Road, London
Gustav MAHLER   (1860-1911)
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
rec. 4 October 1949, Kingsway Hall, London
CD 2
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
rec. rehearsal, 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
rec. 10 July 1951, Municipal Theatre, Amsterdam, Holland
CD 3
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
rec. 10 July 1951, 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
rec. 4 October 1949, Kingsway Hall, London 



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