17 May 2017

Kathleen Ferrier - "new" recordings

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Bruno Walter accompanies Ferrier in two Schubert and two Brahms songs. Walter was a major influence on Ferrier, developing her style and repertoire and bring her to international prominence. Reputedly, she was so overcome rehearsing for Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde that she wept inconsolably. Perhaps it was that emotional directness that Walter recognized that convinced him that the relatively unknown young singer had potential. In these songs, recorded in the Edinburgh studios of the BBC, Ferrier's sincerity shines, though her delivery is more enthusiastic than refined. But that was part of her charm. Walter responds in kind, his playing particularly free and invigorating.

Ferrier's recordings of Mahler's Rückert Lieder and Kindertotenlieder are classics, but on this disc, she sings Urlicht, from Mahler's Symphony no 2. in the version for voice and piano. This recording was made on 28th September 1950. The following year, Ferrier sang the part with full orchestra in the recording of the symphony with Otto Klemperer and Jo Vincent in Amsterdam. The closer focus of this version concentrates attention on the voice and its distinctive colouring. Ferrier's vibrato is used to evoke fragility, in keeping with the nature of the piece. A worthwhile addition to the discography, since she didn't record this version for Decca. This recording predates the Christa Ludwig recording of this version of Urlicht by 13 years.

Apart from one track on this disc - C Hubert Parry's Love is a bable op 152/3 with Gerald Moore - all the other selections feature Ferrier with Frederick Stone. Ferrier sang a lot of Schubert and Wolf, her contralto richness is most effective in Brahms. Her Sonntag op 47/3 here, recorded in December 1949, is particularly impressive. Although Ferrier found fame, she was, at heart, down-to-earth and unaffected, rather like the "Das tausendschöne Jungfräulein" standing by her doorway, innocently capturing hearts. For this reason, perhaps, Ferrier is often most endearing when she sings traditional songs in the English language. This remastering makes Parry's Love is a Bable bright and shiny!

On this SOMM disc, we have Edmund Rubbra's Three Psalms op 61, which Ferrier recorded for Decca with Ernest Lush, in performance with Frederick Stone, from 1947. The piano settings are minimal, displaying the voice unadorned, suggesting private prayer. In Psalm 150, Rubbra writes extravagant lines, which let Ferrier's voice fly exuberantly free. SOMM has also uncovered a special rarity: Maurice Jacobson's Song of Songs, quite probably the original recording, which has lain in the BBC sound archives long known but hitherto unreleased. The text comes from the Book of Solomon, and the setting makes clear reference to Jewish tradition.

Anne Ozorio