Thursday, May 31, 2012

Decca Classics: remembering contralto Kathleen Ferrier, 1912-1953

Kathleen Ferrier | by Cecil Beaton
This last April marked the centenary of one of the finest and most beloved singers of the 20th century – English contralto, Kathleen Ferrier.

Ferrier's international career lasted just eight years, from 1946 until her untimely death in 1953 from breast cancer at the age of 41. Yet, in that remarkably short time, her dark, honey-colored contralto voice left an enduring mark on music lovers all over world. A true contralto, which is the rarest of the female classical voices, Ferrier's vibrato was just a bit faster than most, but she knew without a doubt how to use it to effect every note.

She made her stage debut in 1946 in the world premiere of Britten's Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne and sang Gluck's Orfeo there in 1947. It was however as a recitalist and oratorio soloist where Ferrier made her deepest impression. She was beloved of Bruno Walter who made memorable recordings with her of songs and Mahlers Das Lied von Der Erde.

According to Decca Classics, in the beginning of her career, Kathleen Ferrier recorded for EMI but, she switched to Decca because she preferred the warmer sound of the newly developed FFRR technique, pioneered by the Decca engineers. For such a short career, she was a prolific recording artist. Perhaps she was trying to craft the musical legacy of a legend in a short time ... but, even after Ferrier was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 1951, she continued to perform and record in between periods of hospitalisation and convalescence.

Her final public appearance was as Orfeo, at the Royal Opera House in February 1953, eight months before her death.

For the centenary, Decca Classics is releasing a DVD of an extended feature length film which traces the singer's remarkable life. In addition, the companion CD features over 40 mins of unreleased live recordings.

Here is a teaser for the DVD:

For more information on the DVD / CD combo go to

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