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In Memoriam Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953)
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Das Lied von der Erde (1908-09); Der Einsame im Herbst [9:04]; Von der Jugend [6:28]; Der Abschied [28:52]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St. Matthew Passion; Erberme dich, mein Gott BWV244 (1727) [7:22]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Semele; Where’er you walk HWV58 (1744) [4:51]
Atalanta; Like as the love-lorn turtle HWV35 (1736) [5:52]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orpheus and Eurydyce; Ah diletta Euridice (1774) [5:41]
Radio interview with Ferrier, August 1949 [4:21]
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter (Mahler; Salzburg 1949; Der Einsame and Von der Jugend; and May 1952 Der Abschied)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan (Bach; June 1950)
Giorgio Favaretto (piano) (Handel and Gluck; Milan, February 1951)
TAHRA TAH725 [73:05]

Released in 2012, this disc served a dual function. Firstly, it noted the centenary of Kathleen Ferrier’s birth and second it anticipated the 60th anniversary of her death, which fell in 2013. To do so Tahra has done some recycling from its own previous contribution to the Ferrier discography (see review of TAHRA462).

One of the recycled elements in this new release is some examples of a recital Ferrier gave in Milan. The full extant recital is on Tahra’s disc already cited. As I noted in my review, Ferrier didn’t tour much in Italy. Her debut there was in July 1950 with Karajan and the Vienna Symphony in the Mass in B minor and she returned the following year. Her repertoire then centred on arias from Rinaldo and Xerxes and Kindertotenlieder - conductors, Antonio Pedrotti and Klemperer. The recital preserved by Tahra was recorded on 6 February 1951 by RAI Milan with accompanist Giorgio Favaretto. None of the three examples were new to Ferrier’s discography; Tahra has gone for tried and trusted rather than the discographically unique Handel Semele, Monteverdi, Lotti, Brahms Sonntag and the traditional The Spanish Lady.
 
Where e’er you walk is the only recorded example of her singing this quintessential tenor aria. There is a definably oratorio austerity to her phrasing that announces real gravity - but it can’t persuasively, I think, be argued that she was as idiomatically instinctive an exponent as her male contemporaries. There is however a rather delicious air of felicitous wit in Like as the love-lorn turtle - her crisply humorous consonants, her verbal finesse, her gracious ease at slow tempo, the splendid divisions, all announce a performance of stature - and her only other known recording was a live taping in Oslo in 1949. The Gluck was her signature tune, if we can permit the vulgar phrase. Her diminuendi, ritardandi and the occasional fruity portamento are all part of her expressive armoury - but she does get progressively slower in echt romantic style and there is a little pre-echo in places.
 
That’s the good news; now for the bad. The acoustic in the Milan recital is so resonant that some form of artificial reverberation must have been added at some stage. The recital has in fact appeared before - on a Rococo LP - and knowing Tahra’s generally non-interventionist approach to their re-mastering I would be hesitant to apportion blame there - any more than I would with Rococo. The echo, however - and whenever - it was introduced, remains problematic.
 
Also included, as it was in that other disc, is Erbarme dich, mein Gott from the St Matthew Passion given by the Vienna Symphony and Karajan in June 1950. Walter Schneiderhan’s expressive violin accompaniment graces this well-known performance.
 
Tahra has also included the performance of Der Abschied that Ferrier gave with Bruno Walter directing the Vienna Philharmonic on 17 May 1952. When it was released a decade ago Tahra’s transfer caused some comment in the musical press, because it had long been suspected that Ferrier’s performances on two successive days - 17 and 18 June - had been recorded, but there was confusion as to which this might be. The situation was not helped when the Andante label issued a performance, also claimed to be the off-air 17 June. Andante counter-claimed that Tahra’s was a performance of 18 June, whilst critical voices suggested that Andante’s tape was simply a poor copy of the commercial studio performance that Ferrier and Walter had made. If you’re still with me, Tahra now confirms that its previous - and therefore - this performance is indeed the 17 June one.
 
Additionally Austrian Radio ORF taped the work earlier still, at Salzburg, in August 1949. The two preserved excerpts here are wonderful examples of Ferrier’s art and complement that later Abschied. There is also a preserved Salzburg interview from around the time of the Mahler performance; it’s always keenly interesting to hear an artist’s spoken voice.  

Jonathan Woolf


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