Celebrated mezzo-soprano Diana Moore to perform tribute to Kathleen Ferrier at Great Bedwyn's St Mary's Church
Why was internationally known mezzo-soprano Diana Moore drawn to the iconic British 1940s and 1950s singer Kathleen Ferrier - a contralto? Was it her voice or her life story that appealed so strongly?
"I think it was her voice initially," she told Marlborough News Online. "My piano teacher played me her recordings when I was quite young - eight or nine."
"I was aware that she'd had quite a special life, but it wasn't until later that I discovered more about her story - at which point, I gained even more appreciation. Nowadays, I find it almost impossible to separate the two!"
"One of the things I love most is that you can hear a ‘personality’ in her voice, something that is quite rare nowadays and I believe is very important."
Now the critically acclaimed A Celebration of Kathleen Ferrier - her life, letters and music devised and presented by Diana Moore with Joseph Middleton (piano), comes to St Mary's Church in Great Bedwyn on Thursday, November 12 - details below. People who know and love Kathleen Ferrier's music will hear fresh insights into her life - for those new to her there is both great music and a fascinating life story.
Kathleen Ferrier was born in 1912. After school she worked on a GPO telephone switchboard, won local singing competitions and first sang in London in 1942 - at one of Dame Myra Hess' lunch-time concerts at the National Gallery. Four years later she was singing the lead role in the premiere of Benjamin Britten's opera The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndbourne.
I asked Ms Moore how Kathleen Ferrier would have fared in the present-day global musical whirl with its hectic travel and publicity: "She travelled a great deal more than many singers of her time - she toured the USA twice, as well as many trips to mainland Europe. She also performed hundreds of concerts a year, much more than modern singers would expect to perform."
"However, I think she would have found the intrusive nature of the modern media very difficult. She was a very private person, despite her outgoing nature. She relied very heavily upon her family and close friends."
Kathleen Ferrier died in 1953 at the very early age of 41 - after a fight against breast cancer. Her death was a terrible shock to the musical world. While older members of Diana Moore's audience will have their own memories of Kathleen Ferrier, I wondered how younger members react to her story:
"It seems to be a pretty universal story, whatever the age group. I think its impossible not to be touched by it in some way. Her name still resonates today, through the annual Kathleen Ferrier Award competition, the Chair of Oncology in her name at Kings College Hospital and the competition for younger singers held by the Kathleen Ferrier Society, so a lot of younger musicians are still familiar with her name, just not with her background."
"Many older audience members who do remember her or her voice have very little knowledge of her story either and are quite surprised and touched by the evening."
Many people of my mother's generation knew Kathleen Ferrier not from opera but from her recordings - especially of the Northumbrian folk song 'Blow the Wind Southerly': "Kathleen Ferrier made a lot of recordings and broadcasted regularly on the BBC. Her voice would have been heard regularly in almost every home in the country throughout the 1940s and early 50s."
"She can almost be seen as the voice of an era, a bit like a classical version of Vera Lynn. ‘Blow the wind southerly’ was her calling card. With no accompaniment, the impact of the song is made entirely by the haunting quality of Ferrier’s voice and her delivery of the words."
"It’s always nerve-wracking to perform that song in front of Ferrier fans as she’s an impossible act to follow and I know the song holds so many important memories and associations for people - it’s quite a responsibility!"
Diana Moore has a diary of engagements that takes her around Europe's concert halls, across the Atlantic and across the United States. Does she prefer performing opera or giving recitals?
"I love both, but at a push, I would choose recitals. I relish the challenge of having to hold an audience’s attention and interest for the whole evening, as myself. Each song is a story to be told and the responsibility is purely on your shoulders to entertain."
"Opera is great fun too and I enjoy the opportunity to play being someone else on stage, and as part of a team, but recital singing is the ultimate challenge, I think."
Among the music Diana Moore has chosen for her tribute are by pieces by Bach, Handel, Schubert and Brahms that are strongly associated with Kathleen Ferrier. She also sings some of the contralto's favourite English songs - including Blow the wind southerly. But she will not be imitating the contralto's 'inimitable' sound.
There is an online recording of Kathleen Ferrier's iconic Blow the wind southerly.
This performance of Diana Moore's A Celebration of Kathleen Ferrier is presented by the Friends of Great Bedwyn Church Trust and is sponsored by The Three Tunns.
Unreserved seats £20 from can be bought from Great Bedwyn Post Office,
Marlborough's White Horse Bookshop, Hungerford Bookshop, or from Meriel Larken. On the door: £22.
Canapés & soft drinks in the interval are included in the ticket price. Wine - by donation - will also be available.