For someone lured into appreciation of classical music by the voice of Kathleen Ferrier this concert was a “must”.
As a young schoolboy in West Cumberland I was more or less coerced into attending the annual Messiah performance in a local church. Choirs from the area formed the backbone but the soloists were hired-in professionals.
A not-yet professional Kathleen Ferrier inspired and introduced me to music through the clarity and emotional impact of her voice.
This impression of unique excellence was enhanced by her title role in the premiere run of Britten’s “Rape of Lucretia” and further strengthened by the first Edinburgh International Festival.
A stalwart for six festivals before her early death, Ferrier left a recorded legacy of vocal excellence with renderings of recondite classical pieces, heartfelt versions of traditional British folk songs and unsurpassed Handel.
A considerable part of that legacy is the annual Kathleen Ferrier Award for promising young singers. It was an inspired choice to headline this centenary celebration concert with two recent winners of the award and unfortunate that one, the South African baritone Njabulo Madlala, was forced to drop out by illness.
Mezzo soprano Kitty Whately, the 2011 winner, opened unaccompanied with “Ma Bonny Lad” a Ferrier favourite that set the benchmark for the concert. Though her voice did not have the depth that is undoubtedly still to come, its purity of tone and lyrical ease melded easily with Sir Thomas Allen’s mature baritone.
A packed-to-capacity Queen’s Hall responded with delight to the hastily rearranged programme including pieces by composers in Ferrier’s repertoire but without those she favoured.
Whately sounded exactly right in three Debussy songs with an ancient Greek theme. Allen showed assured technique in Brahms “Sapphische Ode” and stagecraft in Debussy’s “Don Quichotte”.
Whately could not be criticised for the quality of her singing but some of the departing audience commented that she displayed no emotion and “lacked stage presence”. This was certainly not true of the folksong finale. These well-known airs conveyed rapport, spirit, humour and two fine voices unleashed enthusiastic prolonged applause. A triumphant start to the Queen’s Hall Festival series.
Event: Saturday, August 11, 2012