Released in 2012, this disc served a dual function. Firstly, it noted
the centenary of Kathleen Ferrier’s birth and second it anticipated
the 60th anniversary of her death, which fell in 2013.
To do so Tahra has done some recycling from its own previous contribution
to the Ferrier discography (see review
One of the recycled elements in this new release is some examples
of a recital Ferrier gave in Milan. The full extant recital is on
Tahra’s disc already cited. As I noted in my review, Ferrier
didn’t tour much in Italy. Her debut there was in July 1950
with Karajan and the Vienna Symphony in the Mass in B minor and she
returned the following year. Her repertoire then centred on arias
from Rinaldo and Xerxes and Kindertotenlieder -
conductors, Antonio Pedrotti and Klemperer. The recital preserved
by Tahra was recorded on 6 February 1951 by RAI Milan with accompanist
Giorgio Favaretto. None of the three examples were new to Ferrier’s
discography; Tahra has gone for tried and trusted rather than the
discographically unique Handel Semele, Monteverdi, Lotti, Brahms
Sonntag and the traditional The Spanish Lady.
Where e’er you walk is the only recorded example of her
singing this quintessential tenor aria. There is a definably oratorio
austerity to her phrasing that announces real gravity - but it can’t
persuasively, I think, be argued that she was as idiomatically instinctive
an exponent as her male contemporaries. There is however a rather
delicious air of felicitous wit in Like as the love-lorn turtle
- her crisply humorous consonants, her verbal finesse, her gracious
ease at slow tempo, the splendid divisions, all announce a performance
of stature - and her only other known recording was a live taping
in Oslo in 1949. The Gluck was her signature tune, if we can permit
the vulgar phrase. Her diminuendi, ritardandi and the occasional fruity
portamento are all part of her expressive armoury - but she does get
progressively slower in echt romantic style and there is a
little pre-echo in places.
That’s the good news; now for the bad. The acoustic in the Milan
recital is so resonant that some form of artificial reverberation
must have been added at some stage. The recital has in fact appeared
before - on a Rococo LP - and knowing Tahra’s generally non-interventionist
approach to their re-mastering I would be hesitant to apportion blame
there - any more than I would with Rococo. The echo, however - and
whenever - it was introduced, remains problematic.
Also included, as it was in that other disc, is Erbarme dich, mein
Gott from the St Matthew Passion given by the Vienna Symphony
and Karajan in June 1950. Walter Schneiderhan’s expressive violin
accompaniment graces this well-known performance.
Tahra has also included the performance of Der Abschied that
Ferrier gave with Bruno Walter directing the Vienna Philharmonic on
17 May 1952. When it was released a decade ago Tahra’s transfer
caused some comment in the musical press, because it had long been
suspected that Ferrier’s performances on two successive days
- 17 and 18 June - had been recorded, but there was confusion as to
which this might be. The situation was not helped when the Andante
label issued a performance, also claimed to be the off-air 17 June.
Andante counter-claimed that Tahra’s was a performance of 18
June, whilst critical voices suggested that Andante’s tape was
simply a poor copy of the commercial studio performance that Ferrier
and Walter had made. If you’re still with me, Tahra now confirms
that its previous - and therefore - this performance is indeed
the 17 June one.
Additionally Austrian Radio ORF taped the work earlier still, at Salzburg,
in August 1949. The two preserved excerpts here are wonderful examples
of Ferrier’s art and complement that later Abschied.
There is also a preserved Salzburg interview from around the time
of the Mahler performance; it’s always keenly interesting to
hear an artist’s spoken voice.