April 22 marks 100 years since the great contralto's birth
Kathleen Ferrier (April 22, 1912–October 5, 1953) touched the hearts of millions with her extraordinary voice, a deep, rich contralto, the like of which we rarely encounter these days. The intensity of her singing, the beauty of her voice, the shortness of her life and the sadness of her death from cancer all combined to create an impression that guaranteed for artistic longevity. As the anniversary of her birth is marked by a handful of special releases, we delve into the Gramophone archives, and tell her story from different perspectives.
We start with WS Meadmore's obituary from November 1953; then comes a memoir by a singer in the Bach Choir, Clare Campbell who had a privileged seats on the stage during many of Ferrier's greatest oratorio performances and finally, in September 2003, Martin Cullingford marked the 50th anniversary of Ferrier's death with a major profile that assessed her legacy.
The Ferrier Centenary is being acknowledged by a number of record companies. From EMI, the company whose HMV label recorded Ferrier's first disc, comes a three-disc collection of 'The Complete EMI Recordings' including excerpts from Bach's B minor Mass conducted by Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan, songs by Brahms, Greene, Mendelssohn and Purcell with Gerald Moore and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder (with two previously unissued takes) conducted by Walter. (Buy from Amazon.)
Decca's 14-disc set (plus DVD) includes all of Ferrier's recording for the company ranging from folk-songs (including Blow the Wind Southerly), arias from Bach's Passions, Handel arias, the complete Gluck Orfeo (under Stiedry), Pergolesi's Stabat mater, Schumann's Frauenliebe und -Leben (two versions), Britten's Spring Symphony, the Brahms Liebeslieder-Walzer from the Edinburgh Festival, Chausson's Poème de l'amour et de la mer and the Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, Rückert -Lieder (under Walter) and Second Symphony conducted by Otto Klemperer. (Buy from Amazon.)
Regis's four-disc set includes folksongs and Lieder, arias by Gluck and Handel, as well as Ferrier's Mahler collaborations with Bruno Walter (Das Lied von der Erde, Kindertotenlieder and Rückert-Lieder) and her Brahms – Vier ernste Gesänge (Walter) and the Alto Rhapsody (Krauss). (Buy from Amazon.)
And don't forget the various Naxos remasterings: 'Ferrier sings Bach and Handel', 'Songs of the British Isles', 'Great Singers' (Lieder by Brahms and Schumann), her Vienna Mahler recordings with Walter, and the New York Kindertotenlieder, and her Bach recordings with Reginald Jacques (all links to Amazon).