Mahler: Symphony No. 3; Kindertotenlieder; plus interview with Kathleen Ferrier

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Testament
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Kindertotenlieder; plus interview with Kathleen Ferrier
PERFORMER: Kathleen Ferrier (mezzo-soprano);
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Adrian
Boult; Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Otto Klemperer
CATALOGUE NO: SBT2 1422

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This would be an intriguing document in any case: the first ever complete performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony in the UK (in 1947), with everyone involved coming completely new to the work. And there’s also the presence of one of the greatest singers ever. The BBC didn’t record this live broadcast: it was captured instead by a listener who placed a microphone in front of his wireless set at home and recorded the result onto acetate discs. The near-constant hiss and swish is not too hard to get used to. And the general sound is surprisingly good – plenty of bass, very reasonable overall perspective (even with Mahler’s huge orchestra at full throttle), and more than enough detail. Boult’s forthright approach to the music generates an epic grandeur that impresses in its own right. Then enter Kathleen Ferrier. Her singing of the fourth movement’s ‘Night Song’ is wondrously beautiful and moving, with lovely placement of the words themselves. Sure enough, the whole performance is lifted into a new dimension. After the final Adagio, dominated by fabulous playing from BBC Symphony Orchestra strings, you know you’ve been through one of those transforming experiences that are as unmistakable as they are rare. Compared to this, Ferrier’s singing of the Kindertotenlieder at the Concertgebouw is merely excellent (her affinity with Klemperer was not close). Without doubt, this is a wonderful find for Mahlerians and Ferrier fans alike. Malcolm Hayes