Though I never heard her live, Elly Ameling was the patron saint of my musical youth. I can’t remember the recording I heard first – her light-as-air performance of Schubert’s Seligkeit, her deeply-felt St Matthew Passion, her creamy Mozart Concert Arias, or her hilarious rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ – but my love of her voice has never faded. In Schubert, Mozart, Haydn, French Song, and particularly in Bach, she was the standard-bearer for light sopranos: a singer with a natural smile in her voice, and one that could change from a beam of girlish glee to consolation. In decades progressively intoxicated by larger voices, the candour, delicacy and charm of her singing was uniquely touching. And how can you not love a soprano who preferred the intimacy of Lieder recitals to the rough glamour of opera?
In her own words: ‘I felt moved at the beginning of the concert, when I got a warm reception. This happened when I did my first recital at Alice Tully Hall in 1970 and I didn’t understand what was happening. I thought they liked my dress.’
Greatest recording: The Artistry of Elly Ameling Philips 473 4512 (5 discs)