Kathleen Ferrier: A Life in Music at the National Concert Hall 23 July 2014
Framed within the intimate surroundings of the John Field Room, Raphaela Mangan and her accompanist Niall Kinsella, transport us through the musical life of the great contralto, Kathleen Ferrier. The charming duo open the concert with a set of works by Purcell and Handel. Kinsella explains that songs such as these were performed during Ferrier’s time to boost morale during the second world war. Mangan’s golden tones decorate each stylistically-interpreted bar with ease. She appears to be comfortable in each range of her register, and navigates the weaving lines of this Baroque collection flawlessly. Mangan successfully manages to avoid over-singing such music. Kinsella matches her phrasing beautifully, and his touch is sensitively measured here.
Following this first set, Kinsella informs us that Ferrier entered the Carlisle music festival in 1937 under the auspices of a bet made with her husband. She won her section with Roger Quilter’s Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal. Mangan performs this piece elegantly. In honour of Ferrier’s championing of the German Lied throughout the 1940s, the pair perform Schubert’s An die Musik and Lachen und Weinen, and close with Schumann’s Widmung. Mangan’s phrasing and annunciation is impeccable. Her confident portrayal of these works illustrates her musical understanding of such repertoire. Kinsella takes care not to overshadow his contralto and follows her seamlessly.
The first half of this enjoyable concert finishes with Mahler’s Liebst du um Schönheit and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, in recognition of Ferrier’s efforts to promote the music of Mahler in the UK. Mangan handles such complicated music quite naturally. Her dynamic range is solid and effective, whilst her virtually pitch-perfect recollection of each song is commendable.
On their return to the stage, Kinsella announces that Ferrier’s talents were brought to the attention of Benjamin Britten during her performance of Handel’s Messiah in 1943. The duo treats us to their interpretation of O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion, before embarking on a haunting rendition of The Salley Gardens. Mangan’s portrayal of Britten’s Give him this Orchid is particularly noteworthy. Flickers of her charisma and acting potential emerge as she dramatically, yet tastefully, grabs on to the half-masted piano lid. The sultry lower notes of the score are perfectly balanced against the powerful arching upper melodies.
The programme ends with a selection of works from Bach, Mendelssohn, Elgar, Gluck and Whittaker. Again, each work is intelligently measured and performed with believable sincerity. Much to the delight of the appreciative audience, Mangan treats us to what she describes as “a little Irish Ditty”. ‘The Spanish Lady’ brings the concert to a joyous conclusion, against the backdrop of well-deserved applause. Mangan and Kinsella are an absolute treat.
Purcell: Music for a While
Handel: Spring (Ottone)
Handel: Art thou Troubled? (Rodelinda)
Handel: Frondi tenere…Ombra Mai Fu (Xerxis)
Quilter: Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
Hughes: I will walk with my Love
Schubert: An die Musik
Schubert: Lachen und Weinen
Mahler: Liebst du um Schönheit (Rückert-Lieder)
Mahler: Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (Rückert-Lieder)
Handel: O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion (Messiah)
Britten: The Salley Gardens
Britten: Give him this Orchid…The Flower Song (The Rape of Lucretia)
Bach: Bist du bei mir
Mendelssohn: O Rest in the Lord (Elijah)
Elgar: In Haven (Sea Pictures)
Elgar: Where Corals Lie (Sea Pictures)
Elgar: Softly and Gently (The Dram of Gerontius)
Gluck: What is Life to Me without Thee (Orfeo ed Euridice)
Whittager: Blow the Wind Southerly
Images were kindly supplied by photographer Frances Marshall.