Kathleen Ferrier sings Mahler, Berkeley & Chausson
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Label: Barbirolli Society
Cat No: SJB1080
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 22nd September 2014
WorksPoems (4) of St Teresa of Avila, op.27
Poeme de l'amour et de la mer, op.19
This CD presents musicians and music-lovers with a profound conundrum, made more inexplicable by the vivid reminder it brings of the loss to the world of the artistic qualities of Kathleen Ferrier. For it is her artistry that must surely strike us forcibly on being given the opportunity of coming into contact with these live performances from the late 1940s and early 1950s, thankfully preserved from BBC broadcasts. It is that reminder of what the world of music lost when Ferrier died, a victim of the scourge of cancer, in October 1953 at the age of 41, bringing to a tragic end a career that barely traversed nine years.
She recorded Kindertotenlieder in London in October 1949, almost a year to the day after the performance on this CD took place on 13 October 1948 – a broadcast ‘live’ from Manchester’s Albert Hall. For those who know this work intimately, succeeding generations should be grateful that Ferrier’s account with John Barbirolli has been preserved - it is a performance of great penetration and depth, such as to reveal exactly why Bruno Walter, on hearing Ferrier sing for the first time ‘...recognised with delight here was potentially one of the greatest singers of our time.’
Lennox Berkeley had written Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila in 1947 for contralto and string orchestra, expressly for Ferrier. As it was his first solo vocal work, Berkeley consulted with Ferrier during its composition, recalling that ‘she put herself at the service of the music’. She gave the first broadcast performance at the end of April 1948 with the Arnold Goldsbrough Orchestra, and this subsequent performance from November 1949 under Barbirolli reveals the insight of both artists with music of their British contemporaries, more so perhaps as Ferrier never recorded the work commercially.
It seems that Sir John Barbirolli was responsible for introducing Ferrier to the Poeme de l’amour et de la mer by Ernest Chausson, setting a poem by Maurice Bouchor and composed between 1882 and 1890. Barbirolli played in the cello section of the orchestra at the work’s London premiere, on 29 May 1919 at Queen’s Hall, conducted by Geoffrey Toye.
The recording on this CD comes from a performance in Manchester’s Deansgate in March 1951, and offers Ferrier’s superb account of this masterly score, a work which had obviously come to mean something very personal to her and to Barbirolli. A few days before Kathleen Ferrier died, the conductor visited her in hospital. He was clearly deeply moved on that occasion when she sang the opening of the Chausson (as Barbirolli recalled), ‘in a voice with all the bloom and tender ache of spring in it...the glory that was hers remained untouched.’
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