Kathleen Ferrier

Mahler: Symphony No. 3; Kindertotenlieder

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The first thing most listeners will notice about this 1947 recording of Mahler's Third Symphony with Adrian Boult conducting the BBC Symphony is how antique the sound is. Though taken from a radio broadcast and extensively remastered, the sound here is nevertheless dim and faded, as well as being intermittently marred by considerable surface noise. The second thing they will notice is how incredibly right everything sounds. Though the piece had never been performed in England prior to this, Boult's understanding of the gargantuan score is not only complete, but wholly idiomatic. His feeling for phrasing and tempo rubato seems utterly natural and his control of balances and structure is unerring. It's true the British radio orchestra does not always appear altogether on top of the score, but considering it had never played the work before, its mastery of its intricacies is nothing short of amazing. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the performance is the presence of alto Kathleen Ferrier in the fourth movement's setting of Nietzsche's "Midnight Song." As in her later Mahler recordings -- one thinks first of her heartrending account of Das Lied von der Erde with Bruno Walter conducting -- Ferrier is a born Mahlerian with a rich, warm voice and a sweet, soulful interpretation. Coupled here with Ferrier's justly acclaimed July 12, 1951, performance of Mahler's Kindentotenlieder with Otto Klemperer leading the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Ferrier's contribution alone will make this two-disc Testament set worth hearing to her fans. Though not for first-time Mahler listeners, anyone who loves the Viennese fin de siècle master who has already heard a dozen or more recordings of the Third will surely want to hear this one as well.

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