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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Magnificat BWV 243.2 (1733 version) [31:36]
Cantata No. 11: Praise our God (Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen) Ascension Oratorio (1735) [26:07]
Cantata No. 67: Hold in affection Jesus Christ (Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ) (1723) [16:24]
Cantata No. 147: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (1723) [3:33]
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto)
Friedl Riegler, Irmgard Seefried, Ena Mitchell (soprano)
Hugo Meyer-Welfing, William Herbert (tenor)
Otto Edelmann, William Parsons (bass)
The Cantata Singers
Jacques Orchestra/Reginald Jacques
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Volkmar Andreae
rec. Grosser Musikvereinssaal, Vienna, 10 June 1950 (Magnificat); Kingsway Hall, London, October-November 1949
Texts included
SOMM ARIADNE 5004 [77:41]

The major news here is that Kathleen Ferrier’s performance of Bach’s Magnificat, given on 10 June 1950 in Vienna, has been found. She was in the city for the first time to sing in the St Matthew Passion, the B minor Mass and the Magnificat, performances to celebrate the bicentenary of the composer’s death. Both the major works were recorded from radio broadcasts and are familiar but here, now, is the Magnificat. Paul Campion details the background but Somm is cagey about the details of this recording. It’s in excellent sound but where has it been for 69 years; was it, like its companions, taken down off the Austrian radio broadcast?

Ferrier was the only non-German speaking singer invited to take part in the festival. She had apparently only sung the Magnificat once before, the previous year in Amsterdam. There is no evidence that after this Vienna performance she ever sang it again, despite writing to her friend and accompanist, the Canadian pianist John Newmark in 1949; ‘Oh! The Magnificat – I am in my element in this sort of music!’

The Magnificat was performed the day after the St Matthew Passion, with Karajan directing the latter work. For the Magnificat Otto Klemperer had been engaged but illness meant that Volkmar Andreae replaced him, performing orchestral Bach in the first half of the concert. Irmgard Seefried and Otto Edelmann, who had sung with Ferrier the previous day, reappeared for the Magnificat and they were joined by two members of the Vienna Staatsoper, tenor Hugo-Meyer Welfing and soprano Friedl Riegler. I mentioned the fine sound and one clearly hear the vocal terracing of sound from the city’s opera chorus as indeed one can hear the harpsichord.

Riegler sounds frankly overawed and very nervous and takes tell-tale breaths in Et exsultavit. Seefried by comparison is superb in Quia respexit humiltatem, and the orchestra’s principal oboe is eloquence itself. The chorus is on operatic, even militant form in Omnes generationes, (though it’s not ideally tidy – as Fecit potentiam illustrates) where Andreae gets the violins to articulate sharply. Edelmann is a sonorous, rock-like presence in his single solo. Ferrier appears in duet with Meyer-Welfing in Et miereicordia – the tenor is rather effortful in his solo aria, Deposuit potentes – but solo in Esurientes implevit bonis which is where one hears her most fully. To lightly dancing accompaniment, Ferrier sings with characteristic warmth and tonal breadth, and there’s real charm in her divisions as well as an exhibition of perfect breath control. The trio with Seefried and Edelmann is the last one hears of her, and them, before the two brief choruses end the work. Andreae proves a strong guide and the superb recorded quality makes this a pleasure to hear, and to appreciate, even in the context of a live recording with two sub-par soloists. This is an important addition to Ferrier’s legacy on disc even though her contributions can hardly be said to be extensive.

The other items are well-known and are sung in English by the Cantata Singers and the soloists and with the Jacques Orchestra under the direction of Reginald Jacques in 1949. Cantata No.11 Praise our God has been transferred elsewhere several times on CD, notably by Naxos on 8.11295. I really think there should now be some consensus about the pitching of the Decca LP from which this derives as there is pitch discrepancy between Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfer for Naxos and other transfers of the work, such as this Somm release. Also, this transfer is brighter than the Naxos and has preserved more of Decca’s shrillness of sound – something people don’t often enough mention when lauding Decca’s recordings of the time. SOMM doesn’t note in its documentation that the harpsichord continuo was played by Thornton Lofthouse. One of Ferrier’s most affecting solos can, of course, be found here; in English, Ah, tarry yet, my dearest Saviour. Cantata 67 only features 1:34 of Ferrier; the bulk of the solos being sung by William Herbert and William Parsons, both solid performers. The envoi is Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

This disc is warmly commended for sourcing and restoring the Magnificat, which will be of interest to all Ferrier enthusiasts and also, incidentally, to those for whom appreciation of Andreae as a conductor has hitherto been limited to Bruckner. It also shows two distinct choral traditions at work, and Bach on the international stage and in the vernacular in the years of post-War austerity.

Jonathan Woolf

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