In Celebration of BACH – Kathleen Ferrier, contralto – Somm Ariadne 

by | May 28, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Kathleen Ferrier: In Celebration of BACH = Magnificat, BWV 243; Cantata No. 11 “Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen”; Cantata No. 67 “Halt im Gedaechtnis Jesum Christ”; Cantata No. 147 “Herz und mond und Tat und Leben” – Kathleen Ferrier, contralto/ Selected Soloists/ Vienna State Opera Choir/ Vienna Philharmonic/ Volkmar Andreae/ The Cantata Singers/ The Jacques Orchestra/ Dr. Reginald Jacques (BWV 11, 67) – Somm Ariadne 5004, 77:41 (4/19/19) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

In 1950 Vienna, the International Bach Festival celebrated the composer’s bi-centenary with three major performances of St. Matthew Passion, B Minor Mass, and Magnificat, having invited – via Herbert von Karajan – British contralto Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) to participate, the only non-German speaker of some fifteen vocalists to take part in all three works.  For Kathleen Ferrier, her appearance in the Magnificat on 10 June would be her last; and for sixty-eight years the recorded performance had been lost and only now resurfaces for our edification.  The two 1950 Bach cantatas led by Dr. Reginald Jacques (1894-1969) had been issued on London Decca as ten-inch LPs, here remastered in fine sound. For the performance of the 1733 Magnificat revision the conductor is Swiss composer Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962), more often associated with scores by Anton Bruckner.

Bach composed two versions of Magnificat – the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke I: 46-55) – the first, in E-flat Major, written in Leipzig for the 1723 Christmas Vespers. For the second version, Bach lowered the key to D Major and removed four hymn arrangements. Since the work would be programmed with Cantata No. 63, Bach opted for brevity in the Magnificat, setting twelve movements, some of whose terseness rather shake us in their compacted drama. The first two arias, sung by different sopranos (Friedl Riegler and Irmgaard Seefried), depict the young Mary. The bass aria (Otto Edelmann) leads to a ravishing appearance (in Et misericordia) of Ferrier (with tenor Hugo Meyer-Welfing) accompanied by muted strings and flutes. The ensuing chorus Fecit potentiam surges in feverish energy, a colossal pageant in a small space. The fiery tenor aria Deposuit potentes features Hugo Meyer-Welfing. Kathleen Ferrier returns for the lovely Esurientes implevit bonis, pairing her voice with two flutes. Ferrier joins Seefried and Riegler for the exalted trio Suscepit Israel, in which the oboes intone softly the Magnificat chant tune. The Sicut locutus est chorus presents a relatively academic four-part fugue, but the concluding Gloria Patri sets the doxology to a visionary pitch.

Portait Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach may have composed his Cantata No. 11 in 1735 for Ascension Day, the fortieth day of Easter. William Herbert, tenor; William Parsons, bass; and Ena Mitchell, soprano join Kathleen Ferrier for this 1949 – in the 1906 Novello edition – recording, made in English, which conductor Jacques preferred. The cantata relates Christ’s ascension and the various reactions of his Apostles.  In eleven movements, the first six would have been performed prior to the sermon, the last five following its conclusion. The text combines Gospels from Mark, Luke, and Acts, with added words for the closing chorales from 17th Century writers Johann Rist and Gottfried Wilhelm Sacer. Ferrier appears in piercing voice in the expansive “Ah, tarry yet awhile” whose melos well resembles the Agnus Dei from the Mass in B minor. Christ ascends to Heaven, and the Chorus sings a noble “Now at Thy feet” in measured tones. Ferrier appears only once more, to intone the recitative, “Ah Lord, now quickly come again,” so as to invite Ena Mitchell’s sweet aria, “Jesu, all Thy loving kindness.” The pomp and ceremony of exaltation concludes with the Chorus’ “When will then night be over?”

Bach composed Cantata No. 67 prior to his Leipzig residence in 1723, the seven-part work set to texts from Timothy II and selected writers. The resurrection of Christ – announced by tenor William Herbert – shall dismiss all fear and doubt. Nikolaus Herman’s central chorale celebrates – in the Lutheran vision – the joy of the Easter message. Ferrier appears in the troubled alto recitative, “Lord Jesus, thou the sting of death has drawn. . .” which projects yet still doubt, but the bass (William Parsons) aria of Jesus’ return with Chorus, “Peace be unto you,” dispels the last anxieties. The final chorale, “Lord Christ, thou art the Prince,” comes from a text by Jakob Ebert.  To be performed on the first Sunday after Easter, the very opening orchestral and choral tissue rises in grand, solemn ecstasy. Dr. Jacques leads the 1930 Novello edition, with a few slight modifications in the soli.  Herbert’s “Oh Lord, in pity here” in his opening aria well conveys both the emotional and spiritual import of the occasion.

The disc concludes with the famous “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” from Cantata 147 in the setting for solo Chorus. Bach had been installed as Thomascantor in Leipzig in 1723, and this cantata represents his first cycle for the city. It marks the Feast of the Visitation which, ten years later, would invite the composition of the Magnificat. The 8 October 1949 recording, restored by Adrian Tuddenham and Norman White, carries us into a realm of rapt devotion.

–Gary Lemco





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