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Kurt Moses
American Record Guide, March 2009

The Bach and Handel arias, recorded in 1952, were released on Decca 475078 (M/A 2004) but the Bach Cantata is a first on CD. It was recorded in 1949. The reconstructions by Mark Obert-Thorn sound very good, as his work usually does; Ferrier fans—and that definitely includes me—will no doubt be grateful to him. The Cantata, alas, includes only one aria for Ferrier, ‘Ah, tarry yet, my dearest Saviour’—but it’s a beauty. She sings it with deep feeling, gorgeous tone, and excellent, expressive diction—qualities this extraordinary singer possessed in abundance. Ferrier’s voice was a true contralto, it was beautiful and wonderfully smooth and it was projected with utter sincerity.

Bruno Walter, her mentor and friend, is quoted as writing that “music of spiritual meaning…seemed her most personal domain”. That’s what I hear on this disc, notably in the arias from the Passions, the Mass, and the Messiah; and that’s what made her performances to all, including this writer, who heard her in concert, so unforgettable. She also had a wonderful sense of humor, which you can hear in the British folk songs on the Decca release.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, December 2008

There are two pieces of good news for Ferrier admirers here. The first is that the Cantata Lobet gott in seinen Reichen BWV 11—sung in its English translation Praise to God —is making its first CD appearance. The other is that those pretty wretched ‘stereo’ arias—in which Boult was asked to overlay 1960 stereo accompaniments to Ferrier’s 1952 mono originals—are replaced by the original mono recordings… Ferrier’s statuesque nobility permeates these arias…The Cantata recording was made in 1949. The orchestral playing here is rather more tangy than that of the LPO for Boult, which favoured a more all-pupose piety. The Jacques Orchestra made a number of recordings under its founder Reginald Jacques and both conductor and the other soloists were on familiar terms with Ferrier, not least from the various singers’ exhausting jaunts around the country in wartime and in the immediate post-war period. Basil Lam is the—happily—audible harpsichord continuo player and the brightness of the strings—with a touch of asperity—is matched by the forthright contribution of the winds. The recording as such is not ideal, emphasising the choral sibilants, for example, in a rather swimmy kind of a way—but it’s certainly serviceable. This has probably not been CD transferred before now because of Ferrier’s limited participation —one aria and one recitative—but it was worth doing and has been well transferred. Given the foregoing the Ferrier completist will note that her CD discography has taken a firm step forward with this well-transferred disc.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, November 2008

This disc is made up of a 1952 recital which Ferrier made for Decca with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult and 1949 recording of Bach’s Cantata No 22 made in the autumn of 1949, in time for the bicentennial celebrations of the composer’s death. The Decca recital had as its producer a young John Culshaw; it was re-issued in 1960 overdubbed with a new stereo accompaniment made by Boult and the LPO. The Bach Cantata was originally paired with a performance of Cantata 67 made by the same forces.

To listen to the Bach and Handel arias from the Decca/Boult recital on this disc is to enter another world. Boult’s accompaniments do not seem to include extra instrumentation, but in every other respect they are completely symphonic in character. The strings play Bach and Handel just the way they would play later music, beautifully phrased but with the bow firmly on the string. The results are striking in their differences from modern practice.

On the other hand, we are not listening to this for Boult’s accompaniments but for Ferrier’s performances. Her voice had a classical dignity which entirely suited it to this style of repertoire, particularly with the slow speeds and lack of ornamentation which were the norm at the time. She brought a strong emotional commitment to the performances which make them profoundly moving, whereas other singers of the period can merely seem mannered.

All the Handel arias on the disc are unique, Ferrier never recorded them elsewhere. In fact, the recital was partly a sweetener by Decca, with the prospect of a complete Messiah in the future. Decca did record the work but only after Ferrier’s death, to our profound loss. The aria from the St. John Passion is similarly unique in Ferrier’s canon.

Though the Bach Cantata was recorded earlier than the recital disc, in performance practice terms we enter another different world. Conductor Reginald Jacques had founded the Bach choir and whilst the performance is hardly the ultimate in modern views of performance practice, it is recognisably attempting to get closer to what Bach might have heard. This is not symphonic Bach, the strings sound as if bows do occasionally come off the strings, there is a harpsichord noticeably playing continuo. Granted, the sound quality is not ideal and comes over as a bit harsh, but overall this is a fascinating historical document. Ferrier’s performance of the two contralto arias is profoundly moving. The other soloists are not quite in her class but the are entirely commendable.

All items are sung in English and diction is superb, though the rather period translations might begin to annoy after a while.

Ferrier's performances on this disc are sober and moving, very much of her time and worlds away from the lighter approaches to Bach and Handel that are current nowadays. And there is the definite feeling that the Handel arias are treated as sacred music, ‘He was despised’ is profoundly sober (and very moving) and ‘O Thou that tellest’ lacks the feeling of lightness and bounce which modern performances bring to it. This is Handel firmly taken out of the theatre.

But she takes the music seriously and gives us profoundly moving performances, filled with strong musicality and emotional truth; she transcends the limitations of contemporary performance practice. No-one could suggest that this is a disc of ideal performances, but it represents a moving picture of a fine singer and no library should be without it.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2008

In a career tragically cut short by an incurable illness, Kathleen Ferrier established herself as one of the most distinctive contralto voices of the 20th century. The fast fluttering vibrato gave it a singular quality, and, unlike so many singers in this range, it was even in projection from top to bottom. Now probably best remembered from her Mahler recordings, she was during her life equally recognised for her singing of Baroque music, this disc typical of the artistry she brought to Bach and Handel. Though her recordings have rarely been out of the catalogue, it would appear that this performance of Bach’s Eleventh Cantata, ‘Praise our God’ has never been available on CD. All the contents came from the last few years of her life, and have that degree of poignancy of her knowledge that time was now limited for her recorded legacy. Turn to track 4, the Agnus Dei from Bach’s Mass in B minor to hear the perfect lower octave of her voice. Sadly The Cantata is sung in an English translation which robs it as a definitive document, and the singers that surround her were not of her quality. That said, it is still most enjoyable, Reginald Jacques and the Jacques Orchestra sounding more true to period style than Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic in the remaining tracks. The restoration is outstanding, and no Ferrier fan can afford to miss the disc.

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