Collection: Kathleen Ferrier 1912-1953, a Tribute

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Songs & arias
PERFORMER: Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), with various pianists, orchestras & conductors
CATALOGUE NO: 475 078-2 ADD mono Reissue

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The English contralto Kathleen Ferrier, who died of cancer 50 years ago aged just 41, was much loved both as a woman and an artist and remains greatly admired today. Gifted with an outstanding instrument and extraordinary musicality, she rose within a few years to an international reputation, sealed by her Mahler performances under Bruno Walter. This compilation presents important facets of her artistry while suggesting that time has dated some of her material and the performance practice of her day.

Much of the orchestral dressing, as well as the tempi, of the numerous Bach and Handel extracts here will sound quaint to generations familiar with recordings by Gardiner and other period-instrument specialists. Apart from Britten’s, few of the folksong arrangements she favoured have worn well. The sound, too, is of its period, and uneven, but Decca has done a convincing job of presenting it at its best.

Ferrier’s German and Italian diction improved steadily – the earliest samples are not as good as we would expect from a British singer nowadays – but the two extracts from Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben show how vivid she became in the Lieder repertoire.

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The three Mahler Rückert songs, recorded in Vienna in 1952 under Walter, confirm her reputation as one of the greatest interpreters this music has ever had. And it remains a unique voice – rich in colour, with a humanity that lights up its surface and shines all the way down to its innermost depths. George Hall