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April 22, 2010

A salute to the artistry of English contralto Kathleen Ferrier

I've escaped from the newspaper for a few days this week (I faced a use-or-lose situation with my leave), so I won't be too bloggy (or Tweety). And while I enjoy some so-last-century time away from the computer, I hope you won't mind this simple little post that acknowledges one of the most beloved singes of that last century: English contralto Kathleen Ferrier.

She was born on this date, April 22, in 1912, and died absurdly young of cancer in 1953. Fortunately, she left a recorded legacy that is still greatly treasured for the sumptuous beauty of her voice, the unerring taste of her interpretations. Here's just one of example of Ferrier's rare artistry, a performance of the sublime Schubert song, "Du bist die Ruh":

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:50 AM | | Comments (1)


Of course, I can't help mentioning the wonderful recording of Bach's B Minor Mass conducted by Enescu in which Ferrier sings the alto part. The highlight is undoubtedly the Agnus Dei. There are other recordings, either of the whole Mass featuring Ferrier (under Karajan for example) or only of the Agnus Dei (with Boult conducting.) Yet I do believe that is this performance under Enescu's baton that shows Ferrier at her most expressive - hearth-melting, really.

Yes, it is 50's style Bach, and there are some technical issues (the horn player, the chorus, etc), but with musicianship like this, and with Suzanne Danco and Peter Pears among soloists, who cares?

Thanks, as always, for the comments -- and the infallible argument. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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