Today would have been the 100th birthday of the wonderful English contralto Kathleen Ferrier. She had one of the most distinctive and affecting, if not most conventionally beautiful, voices of the century.
Her singing career, which lasted only just over a decade, was curtailed by her untimely death, from cancer, in 1953. Her recorded legacy is of small compass, but highly treasurable. She is perhaps best known for her (to my ears, somewhat lumbering) renditions of English folk songs, but in Mahler she was, if not quite unequaled, at least unsurpassed.
One really should spend the entire day listening to her, but, as a start, here are two short songs. The first is “O Waly, Waly”, which shows off her appeal in the homespun English repertoire, and the second is her heart-breaking version of Mahler’s “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”. This last, especially, is what used to be called a “classic of the gramophone” — one of the finest treasures from a century of recorded sound.
Happy birthday, Kathleen Ferrier.