If contraltos grew on trees, Kathleen Ferrier would be the golden apple.
I meant contraltos, not mezzo-sopranos, who are often though not always halfway there sopranos. The true contralto, on the other hand, blossoms from the c below the treble staff to the c one octave above that and happily descends below that staff as deep as one octave below. Marian Anderson recorded that note at the end of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden.
But I digress.
While any Kathleen Ferrier previously released or unreleased would indeed be cause for celebration, in the case of the recently released SOMM CD titled Kathleen Ferrier In Celebration of Bach I found myself surfing from track 9, in which the late English contralto sings a glorious Esurientes to track 16 where she delivers a magnificent Ah tarry yet my dearest Saviour from the Ascension Oratorio to tracks 26 and 28 of the Cantata no. 67, in both of which she sings recitatives that lead to arias by the other singers involved.
All told, I could only celebrate two arias by Ferrier. In the Magnificat, recorded live in Germany in 1950 with coughing by audience members included, in the Ascension Oratorio and in the Cantata no. 67, there is generally poor singing from those surrounding Ferrier; even the young Irmgard Seefried delivers an unidiomatically labored Quia respexit in the Magnificat while the usually reliable Otto Edelman sounds more like a Baron Ochs than a Bach basso.
Disappointing to say the least.
Word to record producers: if you are announcing the release of another Kathleen Ferrier album please make sure to include her definitive Erbarme dich from the St. Matthew Passion. How about the Agnus Dei from the B Minor Mass?
Put those two in your playlist to begin with and spare us the filler second-tier German and English singers. And please find a title for your release that does not mislead us.
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com