This magnificent reissue preserves an almost complete performance of Kathleen Ferrier's monumental performance in Bach's equally monumental Mass in B minor. I have heard and reviewed many great performances of this sublime work but this must take the cake for emotional intensity.
One of the greatest casts ever assembled is also a factor to be taken into account. The combination of Scwarzkopf, Schoeffler, Ludwig, Ferrier and Poell is surely awesome and although the Vienna forces are not always up to scratch, there is an incredible sense of occasion in the 1950 recording made just five years after the end of the war.
Without doubt, the choruses are an integral part of this great work and when one listens to the slow tempi in 'Gratias agimus tibi' or the concluding 'Dona nobis pacem', one's hairs do stand on end. This version is definitely much better than Karajan's later recording of the Mass for DG although it is on a similar level with his great Philharmonia version of 1952.
Ferrier's 'Four Serious Songs' are extremely moving and are beautifully conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent who knowingly shapes the music to match Ferrier's lovely contralto voice. The recitals are also very special although most of these pieces have been available before in several different versions. The Wolff songs are particularly enticing although the pianist is not credited anywhere, quite an omission in my opinion.
However such spurious details should not deter serious collectors to snap up these essential recordings at the cheap Guild price. Copious notes and some excellent photographs also complement this outstanding set.
Copyright © 2003, Gerald Fenech