In her opening words to this evening’s presentation of Kathleen Ferrier’s life and letters, Diana Moore said that Ferrier was an inspiration to every mezzo-soprano or alto who came after her, and despite its flaws, this concert was clearly a heartfelt tribute to a truly great singer, by one who has learned from her. With her co-presenter Brian Kay, Moore gave an account of Kathleen Ferrier’s life and career, and interspersed the narrative with works from Ferrier’s repertoire.

Diana Moore
Diana Moore

The combination of biography, memoirs and Kathleen Ferrier’s own letters gave a fascinating picture of a brief but stellar career. Ferrier began her musical life as a pianist, and was told by her school music teacher that her voice was “too husky”, but that huskiness brought her an initially successful career as a telephonist, and by her late twenties, her singing talent was being developed by teachers who could see her potential. Then, ten years later, it was all over – she died from cancer at the age of just 41.

Opening with Gluck’s “Che farò senza Euridice” (which we were to hear again at the end of the evening in its English version, “What is Life”), Moore displayed the richness and depth for which her own voice is so rightly praised. The problem was that she felt she had to spend the evening singing in the style of Kathleen Ferrier, and so the baroque pieces she performed were overloaded with vibrato and the result was leaden, and not at all in keeping with her usual style. What we ended up with was neither Kathleen Ferrier nor Diana Moore.

The Romantic works included in tonight’s programme were more successful, probably because there was less of a mismatch in performance style – Moore was able to sing these pieces the way she normally would. Schubert’s An die Musik was warm and glowing, and the three Brahms songs, “Die Mainacht”, “Sonntag” and “Von ewiger Liebe” were wonderfully expressive. I also enjoyed her performance of Mendelssohn’s “O Rest in the Lord” – a perfect piece for big, rich alto voices to enjoy.

The Brahms songs were made all the more enjoyable by Moore’s partner at the piano, John Reid, who played with passion and conviction, making it clear that these pieces are truly a duet between piano and voice, not a solo with accompaniment. His spirited accompanying in Bridge’s “Go not, happy day” gave the piece a wonderful sense of momentum, and he clearly relished the great tremolo passage at the end of Elgar’s aria from The Dream of Gerontius, “The Angel’s Farewell”.

The other element of the programme was folk music arrangements, something that Ferrier clearly enjoyed immensely, and Moore endeavoured to put across that same sense of fun that she described in Ferrier’s own performances, but again the result felt forced and there were problems with diction and tuning. For a singer to put on a presentation of one of the musical world’s greatest talents is a brave act, and it was an interesting experiment, but not a success. The staging was such that Kathleen Ferrier’s presence was there throughout the evening – there were beautiful photos of her projected behind the performers; and an empty chair with a fur coat, suitcase and scattered scores on the stage, but I think there needed to be a bit more distance.

However, the ending of the concert was perfect and made up for all its flaws. After singing “The Angel’s Farewell”, Moore gave a moving account of Ferrier’s illness and her bravery in her determination not to let people down. Her last public performance was of Gluck’s Orfeo, during which one of her thighbones shattered, but she continued through excruciating pain to the end of the show. Having completed their account, the performers left the stage, the lights dimmed, and we were left to enjoy an exquisite recording of Kathleen Ferrier, singing “What is Life”. Thus we were able to applaud Ferrier herself, and the three performers who had made a valiant attempt to bring her life and music to the stage.

**111