April 22, 2012 marks the centenary of one of the finest and most beloved singers of the 20th century – the English contralto, Kathleen Ferrier. Her international career lasted just eight years, from 1946 until her untimely death in 1953 from cancer at the age of 41, but her unparalleled artistry still has an impact today. Decca Classics, the label that recorded so much of her output during her short career, celebrates her centenary with a collection of releases and a new documentary.
Decca is set to release a brand-new DVD documentary to commemorate Ferrier's life, available May 29. The film is a touching portrait of an extraordinary woman and features a rare audio interview recorded at the peak of her career and digitally re-mastered recordings of her finest performances, some never before released. This documentary, directed by Diane Perelsztejn, provides a close look at Ferrier's humble beginnings and her rise to international fame – all while maintaining her "girl next door" appeal which endeared her to audiences around the world. Her unmistakable voice and her warm and welcoming personality come through in interviews and on film.
Included with the DVD is a bonus CD of mostly never before released recordings of Ferrier, all recorded live in Town Hall in New York City in 1950. The CD includes three works attributed to Bach (which previously appeared on CD) along with the Four Serious Songs, op. 121 by Johannes Brahms, performed in English. Later, Ferrier would make a commercial recording for Decca of these songs in German even though she more frequently performed them in English as they are presented here for the first time. A couple of months after the above concert, Ferrier returned to Town Hall for an abridged concert version of the opera Orfeo ed Euridice. She was joined by Ann Ayars as Euridice (with whom Ferrier had sung at Glyndebourne) and soprano Ethel Barrymore Colt. Long deposited in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound in the New York Public Library, the recording is one of just a small handful that are known from Ferrier's North American visits. Click here for complete release information.
In addition to the new documentary and unreleased recordings, Decca has just released a comprehensive box set of Ferrier's recordings for the label. Kathleen Ferrier Centenary Edition – The Complete Decca Recordings features every recording Ferrier made for Decca, along with a bonus DVD (An Ordinary Diva) and an exceptional new booklet. Reviews have been ecstatic: "Every piece you pull out is a winner. For the most part, the sound is remarkably good … Ferrier's tone throughout is full of warmth and intensity, which is at times overwhelming. It's a performance that can never be replaced or supplanted." (David Mellor, The Mail on Sunday, April 15, 2012) Click here for the complete track listing.