Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ferrier might safely be called the last great contralto. For although many distinguished mezzo-sopranos have graced the stage in the half-century since Ferrier’s death, there has been no contralto of comparable ability. Indeed, one would be hard put to find a genuine contralto of any caliber—it’s a voice type that’s as good as extinct.
She had a supremely beautiful voice and used it with a deceptively simple openness that belies the extent of her craft. Despite the awesome majesty of her sound, she was the most accessible of singers and there’s barely any separation between the singer and her audience. This uniquely powerful bond is established anew, even via the murky acoustics of the 1951 broadcast sound. Nothing about this
ungimmicky transfer could be called “breakthrough” in comparison to the original release, but it serves the purpose of letting us hear an authentic angel with a lyre.
Greet Koeman is an adequate Euridice, but Nel Duval is the shrillest Amore I’ve ever heard—every note she utters is a sore trial to listen to. The conducting by Charles Bruck would probably be considered unfashionably slow by the denizens of the “historically informed performance practices” movement and by audiences used to the breakneck speed mindlessly ubiquitous these days. Some of my colleagues would possibly mischaracterize Mr. Bruck’s conducting as “19th century.” I’d characterize it as “four-square” and of an honesty that complements that of his immortal Orfeo very well—I prefer it to the conducting by Fritz Stiedry on the Glyndebourne excerpts. The musical edition here is standard 19th-century Ricordi, which, though severely cut, is not as bowdlerized as the Glyndebourne. There is no libretto, but there are good notes by Ken Jagger.
One prediction I will happily make—this recording, which has never been out of print since it was first issued in 1977, will be listened to and remain readily available long after the myriad “authentic,” “historically informed,” empty-suit renditions of Gluck’s masterwork are remorselessly swept away by the next musical performance fad and have made their sad but inevitable Orpheus-like descent to where discontinued recordings linger as obsolete out-of-print shades. Obviously this is not a “first choice” Orfeo—which for me remains the Monteux/Stevens on BMG (also the Ricordi edition), but it is nonetheless worthy to enter the Pantheon of mandatory Orfeo recordings.
James Camner, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph W. Gluck
Kathleen Ferrier (Mezzo Soprano),
Greet Koeman (Soprano),
Nel Duval (Soprano)
Netherlands Opera Chorus,
Netherlands Opera Orchestra
Written: 1762/1774; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 01/1951
Venue: Live Municipal Theater, Amsterdam
Notes: Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1762).
Composition revised: Paris, France (1774).
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