For six decades Kathleen Ferrier’s records have taken pride of place in many music-lovers’ collections in almost every country of the world. The range of her records represents pretty well her repertoire as it developed during the ten fruitful years of her career.
Kathleen’s first recordings were made for EMI at Abbey Road Studios in north London in June 1944; these were simply test records, not intended for public sale, and it was almost 35 years before they were first issued. Three more recording sessions for EMI followed and included music by Handel, Greene, Purcell and Mendelssohn; by February 1946 she had changed her allegiance to Decca Records, not having enjoyed a good rapport with Walter Legge, in charge of her earlier sessions. Her only other recording for EMI – Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder - was made in October 1949 with special permission granted by Decca.
Kathleen’s major recording projects for Decca between 1946 and 1952 included Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Bach’s St Matthew Passion and two of his choral cantatas, an abridged version of Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice, Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody and Vier Ernste Gesänge, Schumann’s Frauenliebe und –leben and selections of British songs. Also for Decca she sang lieder and oratorio and opera arias from her growing repertoire, including the perennial favourite What is Life? in 1946. But surely the celebrated recording of Mahler’s song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde – made in Vienna in 1952 and conducted by Bruno Walter - stands as her greatest memorial, a performance by which more recent versions are invariably judged.
Fine as all these recordings are, made using the most advanced technology available at the time, it is perhaps in Kathleen’s surviving radio broadcasts that most interest lies. From BBC broadcasts came the first radio performance of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia in 1946; a celebrated Lieder recital from the 1949 Edinburgh Festival, with Bruno Walter at the piano; four recordings conducted by Sir John Barbirolli, including another Das Lied von der Erde and Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer, and Brahms’s Liebeslieder Walzer from the 1952 Edinburgh Festival. Dutch radio was the source of another performance of Rape of Lucretia in 1946 and Mahler’s gigantic Second Symphony and Kindertotenlieder conducted by Otto Klemperer in 1951.The world première of Britten’s Spring Symphony was given in Amsterdam in July 1949 and issued on a Decca CD in 1994 – a remarkable document indeed. A complete Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck, from the 1951 Holland Festival, was released in 1978, showing the late glory of Kathleen’s majestic interpretation. In Vienna in June 1950 Kathleen sang in Bach’s St Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and both have been released on various labels during the last 20 years. These performances are quite outstanding and the other singers are also of top quality; Ferrier at her absolute best!
Four extracts of Kathleen’s speaking voice survive and we can hear that, like her singing, it was rich and beautiful. To hear her laugh is altogether a different experience, too!
There are, sadly, too many gaps in the Ferrier discography. No Dream of Gerontius, in which she excelled on the concert platform; just two arias from her beloved Messiah, but no complete performance has survived. A host of German Lieder and British songs were never recorded and we can only dream about so many other pieces in her repertory which we cannot now hear her sing.
We are grateful for all that has survived. Every piece, however apparently insignificant, gives us just a little further light on the glory that was Kathleen Ferrier; and the great works proclaim it con amore!
A selection of Kathleen Ferrier's recordings, showing composer, title of the work(s), conductor, pianist, orchestra and other principal artists; original year of recording; and (in brackets) the CD/LP number. Not all recordings may be currently available.
Full details of all Kathleen Ferrier's known recordings may be found in Paul Campion's annotated and illustrated discography Ferrier – A Career Recorded, which was published by Thames Elkin in May 2005 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Kathleen Ferrier Awards.
Bach, Mass in B Minor, with G Enescu, P Pears, S Danco, B Boyce, N Walker & BNO 1951 (BBCL 4008-7)
Bach, Mass in B Minor, with H vKarajan, E Schwarzkopf, W Ludwig, P Schoffler & VSO 1950 (Foyer 2-CF 2022)
Bach, St Matthew Passion + Cantata 67, with R Jacques, E Greene, E Suddaby, W Parsons, W Herbert & JO 1947/8 (Naxos 8.111373-75)
Bach, St Matthew Passion, with H vKarajan, I Seefried, W Ludwig, P Schoeffler & VSO 1950 (Andante AND1170)
Bach, Gluck, Handel, Mendelssohn, Arias (including What is Life?) with M Sargent, R Jacques, NSO, & LSO 1946/ 1947 (Decca 433470-2)
Bach, Handel, Arias with A Boult & LPO 1952 + Bach Cantata 11 with Jacques, Mitchell, Herbert and Parsons & JO 1949 (Naxos 8.111295)
Beethoven, Symphony no 9, with B Walter, I Baillie, H Nash, W Parsons & LPO 1947 (Music & Arts CD 733)
Berkeley L, Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila, with A Goldsborough & SO 1948 (33rpm LP REGL 368)
Berkeley L, Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila, with J Barbirolli & HO 1949 (Pearl GEM 0229)
Brahms, Schubert, & Schumann Lieder and two Christmas Carols, with P Spurr, J Newmark, & B Britten 1947/9/1950/2 (Decca 433471-2)
Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Lieder, with B Walter at the Edinburgh Festival 1949 (Decca 433476-2)
Brahms, Four Serious Songs, with M Sargent & BBCSO 1949 (Decca 433472-2)
Brahms, Vier ernste Gesänge, with J Newmark 1950 (Naxos 8.111009)
Brahms, Alto Rhapsody, with C Krauss & LPO 1947 (Naxos 8.111009)
Brahms, Alto Rhapsody, with F Busch & DRSO + Brahms songs 1949 (DACO CD 301)
Brahms, Alto Rhapsody, with E Tuxen & OPO 1949 (APR 5579)
Brahms, Liebeslieder Waltzes, with C Curzon, H Gal, I Seefried, J Patzak, & H Günter 1952 (Decca 425995-2)
Brahms, Three Vocal Quartets, with H Gal, I Seefried, J Patzak & H Günter + Lieder 1952 (Pearl GEM 0229)
Britten, The Rape of Lucretia, with H Oppenheim, P Pears, J Cross & CE 1946 [Amsterdam] (Gala GL 100560)
Britten, The Rape of Lucretia, with R Goodall, P Pears, J Cross & CE 1946 [London] (Pearl GEMS 0231)
Britten, Spring Symphony, with E van Beinum, P Pears, J Vincent & CO 1949 (Decca 440063-2)
Chausson, Poeme de l'amour et de la mer, with J Barbirolli & HO 1951 (Decca 433472-2)
Elgar, Land of Hope and Glory (part), with J Barbirolli & HO 1951 (BBCL 4100-2)
Ferguson, Rubbra, & Wordsworth, English Songs, with E Lush 1953 (Decca 433472-2)
Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice, (complete) with C Bruck, N Duval, G Koeman & ONO 1951 (EMI CD 5 86194-2)
Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice (abridged), with F Stiedry, A Ayars, Z Vlachopoulos & SPO 1947 (Dutton CDEA 5015)
Greene & Handel Arias, together with four EMI test recordings from 1944, with G Moore 1944/5 (APR 5544)
Handel, Purcell, Wolf inter alia, Arias & Lieder, with P Spurr 1949 (Decca 433473-2)
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, with B Walter, J Patzak & VPO 1952 (Naxos 8.110871)
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, with B Walter, S Svanholm & NYPO 1948 (Naxos 8.110029)
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, with B Walter, J Patzak & VPO 1952 (Tahra Tah 482)
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, with J Barbirolli, R Lewis & HO 1952 (APR 5579)
Mahler, Symphony no 2, with O Klemperer, J Vincent & CO 1951 (Decca 425970-2)
Mahler, Symphony no 3, with A Boult, CLC & BBCSO 1947 (Testament SBT2 1422)
Mahler, Kindertotenlieder, with O Klemperer & CO 1951 (Decca 425995-2)
Mahler, Kindertotenlieder, with B Walter & VPO 1949 (EMI CDH 7610032)
Mahler, Three Rückert Lieder, with B Walter & VPO 1952 (Naxos 8.110871)
Mendelssohn & Purcell, Duets, with G Moore & I Baillie 1945 (APR 5544)
Parry, Stanford, Warlock inter alia, Songs, with F Stone 1952 (Decca 433473-2)
Pergolesi, Stabat Mater, with R Henderson, J Taylor & BNSO 1946 (Dutton 2CDAX 2005)
Schumann, Frauenliebe und Leben, with J Newmark 1950 (Naxos 8.111009)
Telemann, Kleine Kantate von Wald und Au, with J Francis, M Silver & G Roth 1949 (Pearl GEM 0229)
Traditional, Quilter etc, British Folk Songs (inc Blow the wind Southerly), with P Spurr, J Newmark 1949/51 (Naxos 8.111081)
Italian Recital including Handel, Purcell, Monteverdi, Lotti, Gluck, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Parry & Stanford etc 1951 (Tahra Tah 462)
Kathleen Ferrier at a Party c 1949 - light-hearted songs - (Pearl GEM 0229)
Radio talk What the Edinburgh Festival has meant to me 1949 (Decca 433476-2)
DVD Kathleen Ferrier – An Ordinary Diva with bonus CD 2003 (Decca 074 3067 DX2)