Kathleen Ferrier – St Matthew Passion (J.S. Bach) – Arias & Choruses (1992; rec. 1947 +1948)


Kathleen Mary Ferrier, CBE (22 April 1912 – 8 October 1953) was an English contralto singer who achieved an international reputation as a stage, concert and recording artist, with a repertoire extending from folksong and popular ballads to the classical works of Bach, Brahms, Mahler and Elgar. Her death from cancer, at the height of her fame, was a shock to the musical world and particularly to the general public, which was kept in ignorance of the nature of her illness until after her death.

The daughter of a Lancashire village schoolmaster, Ferrier showed early talent as a pianist, and won numerous amateur piano competitions while working as a telephonist with the General Post Office. She did not take up singing seriously until 1937, when after winning a prestigious singing competition at the Carlisle Festival she began to receive offers of professional engagements as a vocalist. Thereafter she took singing lessons, first with J.E. Hutchinson and later with Roy Henderson. After the outbreak of the Second World War Ferrier was recruited by the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), and in the following years sang at concerts and recitals throughout the UK. In 1942 her career was boosted when she met the conductor Malcolm Sargent, who recommended her to the influential Ibbs and Tillett concert management agency. She became a regular performer at leading London and provincial venues, and made numerous BBC radio broadcasts.

Kathleen Ferrier

In 1946, Ferrier made her stage debut, in the Glyndebourne Festival premiere of Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia. A year later she made her first appearance as Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, a work with which she became particularly associated. By her own choice, these were her only two operatic roles. As her reputation grew, Ferrier formed close working relationships with major musical figures, including Britten, Sir John Barbirolli, Bruno Walter and the accompanist Gerald Moore. She became known internationally through her three tours to the United States between 1948 and 1950 and her many visits to continental Europe.

Ferrier was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 1951. In between periods of hospitalisation and convalescence she continued to perform and record; her final public appearance was as Orfeo, at the Royal Opera House in February 1953, eight months before her death. Among her many memorials, the Kathleen Ferrier Cancer Research Fund was launched in May 1954. The Kathleen Ferrier Scholarship Fund, administered by the Royal Philharmonic Society, has since 1956 made annual awards to aspiring young professional singers. (by wikipedia)


Bach, in this time, was performed slowly, and I most certainly do not see that as a problem. As far as I’m concerned, the music was very probably written to be performed at tempos slower than that at which they’re taken today (2013), and most significantly slower than they were taken a decade or two ago. The slower tempo enables some listeners such as myself to hear the counterpoint much better –that is, the intertwining inner melodies, for anyone unfamiliar with the term.

The recitatives, however (the narrative interspersed between the choruses and arias) do need to be taken at a brisk pace, and should be more spoken than sung. The tenor Evangelist, does do a good job of singing with a close to spoken style, and with good pace.

I’m listening to the first few numbers, and I’m waiting for the first big alto aria by Kathleen Ferrier, which is a major part of the value of the recording… Oh man, it is gorgeous. To those of us who were a little in love with this wonderful woman, this purchase is a definite must. I gave 4 stars only because of the technical deficits, which are totally forgivable for recordings of the period. The orchestra is more than good.

Oh dear; I just heard a hiccup in the recording: an entire phrase cut out. Luckily I have a CD of this aria, and can repair the file if I really want to…Highly recommended. (by Archimedes)


Kathleen Ferrier (alto)
Eric Greene (tenor)

Elsie Suddaby (soprano)
Williams Parsons (bass)
Thornton Lofthouse (continuo)
Osborne Peasgood (organ)
The Jacques Orchestra + The Bach Choir conducted by Reginald Jacques 


01. Arias & Choruses: No.01: Come, Ya Daughters
02. Arias & Choruses: No.09: My Master And My Lord…/No.10: Grief For Sin –
03. Arias & Choruses: No.33: Behold, My Savior Now Is Taken
04. Arias & Choruses: No.36: Ah! Now Is My Saviour Gone
05. Arias & Choruses: No.47: Have Mercy, Lord, On Me…/No.48: Lamb Of God, I Fall Before Thee
06. Arias & Choruses: No.60: Gracious God!…/No.61: If My Tears Be Availing
07. Arias & Choruses: No.63: O Sacred Head Surrounded
08. Arias & Choruses: No.69: Ah, Golgotha!…/No.70: See Ye! See The Saviour’s Outstretched Hands
09. Arias & Choruses: No.72: Be Near Me, Lord, When Dying
10. Arias & Choruses: No.77: And Now The Lord To Rest Is Laid…/No.78: In Tears Of Grie



Kathleen Mary Ferrier, (22 April 1912 – 8 October 1953)